Sunday, February 14, 2016

Athens-Clarke County Government Says Expansion Of Epps Bridge Centre In Oconee County Has Impact On Athens-Clarke County

Before Oconee Planning Commission

The government of Athens-Clarke County has raised concerns about the proposed $55 million expansion of Epps Bridge Centre, saying the project will have impact on both the transportation infrastructure and natural resources of the county.

The Athens-Clarke County Planning Department outlined the concerns in a letter sent to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, which is conducting a review of the project as a Development of Regional Impact.

The unified government also sent to the regional commission copies of two letters from citizens of the Kingwood subdivision, across McNutt Creek from the area of the development, that also raise critical questions about the expansion of the shopping center.

Those concerns could be raised tomorrow night at the Oconee County Planning Commission, which is set to review a request by Epps Bridge Centre developer Oconee 316 Associates LLC for rezone of 54 acres on the Oconee Connector across from the existing shopping center.

The Planning Commission agenda is a full one, also containing the first actual vote on the proposed Mars Hill Road overlay district and on a series of changes to the county’s zoning ordinance, one of which would allow for a recreational vehicle storage facility in an agricultural area.

Approval Almost Certain

Approval of the rezone request for what is being labeled as Phase II of Epps Bridge Centre is a virtual certainty.

Location Map With Residential Area

The county has agreed to pay $3.35 to build Parkway Boulevard Extension that will serve as the entrance to the expanded shopping center.

The Oconee County planning staff has recommended approval of the rezone.

The Planning Commission is only advisory, with the final decision on the rezone by the Board of Commissioners scheduled for March 1.

The Development of Regional Impact report by NEGRC isn’t due until Feb. 24.

When NEGRC reviewed the proposal for the existing Epps Bridge Centre in 2008, it found that the development was “not in the best interest of the region and therefore the state.”

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners approved the rezone despite that finding.

ACC Concerns

Bryce Hix, long range planner in the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, told NEGRC in a letter on Feb. 10 that the project as proposed “would have a measurable impact on Athens-Clarke County's transportation infrastructure and natural resources.”

The planner expressed concern about McNutt Creek, which forms the border of Oconee and Clarke counties. Tributaries on the 54-acre-tract feed that creek, and Hix wrote that “The project could potentially degrade water quality and likewise affect quantity.”

Traffic will be impacted in Athens-Clarke County along Epps Bridge Road at the intersections with Timothy Road and with Atlanta Highway, Hix said in his letter.

“Also, due to the proximity of this project to neighborhoods in Athens-Clarke County, Staff has concerns regarding quality of life due to increased noise and light pollution,” he wrote.

Letters From Neighbors

Carl Jordan, former Athens-Clarke County commissioner and resident of Kingwood subdivision, which is just across McNutt Creek from the area being developed, raised concerns about Jennings Mill Road in a detailed letter he submitted to Hix and that Hix forwarded to NEGRC.

Jordan said that the traffic study done for the project does not include an assessment of the impact of the expanded shopping center on Jennings Mill Road, which Jordan calls “an unimproved, ACC, residential collector.”

The expanded shopping center will have frontage on Plaza Parkway, a feeder to Jennings Mill Road, which meets Atlanta Highway in a congested intersection just east of the exit ramp to Atlanta Highway from SR Loop 10.

Jordan also wrote that both NEGRC and the Oconee County Planning Department should “place the 54-acre development” for the expanded shopping center “in the larger context of the entire 114-acre tract” from which the 54 acres are taken.

Sonja Armour, a resident of Kingswood whose house backs up to McNutt Creek, said she already experiences flooding and is concerned about increased runoff from the project.

Aaron Watwood, Kingwood Neighborhood Association president, expressed concern about increased traffic through Kingwood resulting from the development. Watwood’s letter was forwarded to me by Jordan and did not appear in the packet of materials I received from NEGRC.

Mars Hill Overlay

While the outcome of the vote by the Planning Commission on the Epps Bridge Centre rezone request is not in doubt, that is not the case for the Mars Hill Overlay proposal.

Consultant Bill Ross has run into considerable opposition from the Board of Commissioners in recent meetings, including one on Jan. 8.

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis was originally a proponent of the overlay, but, at that meeting, he invited Doug Dickens, a strong opponent, to take as much time as he wanted to attack the plan.

Ross has made one significant change from his earlier proposal. The overlay ordinance as written would allow a landowner to change the rezone for a property and the overlay map at the same time, rather than as two separate steps.

Dickens wanted the whole plan tossed out, and the vote by the Planning Commission to recommend that the overlay district become part of the county’s zoning law is the first political test of the proposal.

Recreational Storage

Oconee County Commissioners on Nov. 3, in a 2-1 vote, turned down a request by fellow Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes to rezone six acres of land he owns on Old Greensboro Road south of Watkinsville for a recreational vehicle storage and mini-warehouse facility.

The commissioners subsequently asked the planning staff to change the county’s Unified Development Code so that Wilkes could develop a recreational vehicle storage facility without changing the agricultural zoning of the property.

The proposed change in the UDC states that “Self-storage RV campers, campers and boats may be allowed in the A-1 (Agricultural) zoning by Special Use only,” meaning that Wilkes only would need special use approval rather than a change of zoning category.

B.R. White, director of planning and code enforcement for the county, told me that he is aware of at least one other property zoned for agriculture and being used for RV storage but that Code Enforcement has not taken any action on the property pending a vote on the proposed changes in the UDC.

The meeting tomorrow night is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

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