The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night is to decide if the overlay district put into place in 1968 to protect the area around the iconic Elder Mill Bridge should remain in place, should be modified somewhat, or should be radically changed.
The county’s planning staff originally proposed that the district remain unchanged but modified that position to allow land owner James A. Flanagan to remove 6.1 acres from the overlay district.
Flanagan has rejected that plan and asked that nearly all of the overlay district on his 23 acres on Elder Mill Road south and east of the historic covered bridge be removed from the retrictive district.
Flanagan’s request was denied by the Planning Commission when it went before it on Jan. 19.
That body recommended that the Board of Commissioners accept the modified position of the planning staff.
The item is the sixth action item on the agenda for the meeting on Tuesday night, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The county has been dealing with Flanagan’s request since August of last year.
The rezone appeal went before the Planning Commission initially on Oct. 19, and the body voted to deny Flanagan’s request.
When the request went before the Board of Commissioners on Nov. 3, Commissioner Mark Saxon asked that the item be removed from the agenda. The Board agreed, postponing consideration of Flanagan’s request until Dec. 1.
Neither Flanagan nor his representative, real estate agent Norm Grayson, showed up at the Dec. 1 meeting.
Rather than deny the request because no one appeared, the commissioners sent the request back to the Planning Commission.
Had the BOC turned down the request, Flanagan could not have come back before the county for six months and would have had to pay $275 in application fees.
By sending the matter back to the Planning Commission, the commissioners allowed Flanagan to reappear earlier this month and pay only $75 for advertisements for the hearings.
Brad Callender, Oconee County planner, led the Planning Commission through the request and the history of the bridge, the mill and the overlay district at that meeting on Jan. 19.
The video clip below from Callender’s presentation explains when the bridge was built (1897), when it was moved to its current site (1924), and what is special about it (its design).
He also explained why the county back in 1968 created the overlay district to preserve the area around the bridge.
Callender said that the staff had tried to find a compromise with Flanagan that would result in only five of his 23 acres remaining in the overlay district, rather than the current 11 acres.
Taking Of Property
Grayson argued at the Planning Commission meeting that the county was taking Flanagan’s property by prohibiting development on it through the restrictions of the overlay district but not providing Flanagan compensation.
Callender responded that the Flanagan property was carved in 1971 from a larger, in-tact tract that had been the center of the overlay district.
That purchase was three years after the overlay district had been put in place, Callender said, meaning that Flanagan bought the property with the restrictions of the overlay district already specified.
Grayson said the county should limit the overlay district to a small area along Rose Creek, which flows under the bridge and forms the boundary of the Flanagan property.
County Mismanaged District
In 1971, when Flanagan purchased the property, 2.3 acres were set aside for construction of a house.
The house is very visible from the bridge and is in clear violation of the restrictions of the scenic preservation overlay district.
Callender told the Planning Commission that county staff apparently did not recognize–or at least enforce–the violation of the overlay district when it issued the building permit for the house. County tax records indicate the house was built in 1972.
The property next to the bridge with the house built in 1972 was on the market in early 2010, but the Board of Commissioners made no effort to purchase the property.
The BOC also has made no effort to purchase the property across the creek on which the historic Elder Mill sits. The mill is in working condition.
In 2007, the county Parks and Recreation Department, working with farmland and historic preservationist Russ Page and local land planning firm Williams and Associates, drew up a concept plan for a county park to protect much of the currently undeveloped land around the bridge and the mill.
The Commissioners also took no take action on the proposal for a park. That proposal is on the county web site as an attachment to the Flanagan planning document.
The complete video of the Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 19 is below.
I took the clip above from Callender’s longer presentation.
Both Grayson and Flanagan spoke after Callender gave the staff overview of the request.
The county should buy the property if it is valuable to protect (which is clearly is) and not make the property owner protect it. This is a major tourist draw and is a beautiful spot. the county is wealthy enough to afford to do this.
Flanagan bought the property with the overlay district in place. Too bad.
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