It took 72 minutes last week for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to reduce the size of the Scenic Preservation Overlay District at Elder Mill Bridge by .88 acres from what the county’s professional planning staff had recommended.
The BOC didn’t actually know how much acreage was involved in the switch. The professional planning staff made that calculation days later.
Property owner James Flanagan and his representative, realtor Norm Grayson, were not happy. They wanted to reduce the overlay district considerably more.
The BOC brushed that request aside, drew the new lines–or at least said where it wanted them to be drawn–and put an end at least for now to a months-long attempt by Flanagan to change dramatically the protective district the county drew around Elder Mill Bridge in 1968.
The county has been dealing with Flanagan’s request since August of last year. It came in the form a rezone application for what was then called 23.05 acres on Elder Mill Road south of the iconic covered bridge.
The request was to eliminate entirely the scenic preservation overlay on Flanagan’s property.
The rezone 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 Grayson showed up at the Dec. 1 meeting. Rather than deny the request because no one appeared, the commissioners sent the matter back to the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission turned down Flanagan’s request when it went before it on Jan. 19 and recommended that the Board of Commissioners accept a modified map drawn by the planning staff.
Along the way, Flanagan had his property surveyed, and it turned out he only had 19.62 acres, not the 23.05 acres shown on the tax records.
Brad Callender, Oconee County planner, calculated that the 1968 overlay district the county imposed on the area around the bridge included 12.14 of the 19.62 acres owned by Flanagan.
The modified map the staff drew at the request of the BOC after the Nov. 3 meeting would have removed 6.13 of those acres from the scenic preservation overlay district. A total 6.01 acres of Flanagan’s property would have remained in the district.
The new lines that the BOC drew on Feb. 2–or suggested be drawn–removed 7.01 acres. A total of 5.13 acres remained
That’s a difference of .88 acres.
Flanagan and Grayson proposed that a different line be drawn back from the bank of the creek, but they didn’t calculate the acreage and actually were not firm on how far from the creek they wanted the line to be. The figure they used most often was 75 feet.
The commissioners spent a lot of time simply staring at maps of the property on the screen, as the sampled clips below show.
In the end, they told the staff to draw lines based on the contour lines from the creek. Here’s what it sounded like as a motion.
They then passed that resolution unanimously.
Haygood Not Sympathetic
Grayson argued that the county had taken Flanagan’s property without compensation, even though the overlay district was in place when Flanagan and his mother bought the property in 1971.
Flanagan said he didn’t know the overlay district was present.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood was unsympathetic, saying “it is the responsibility of the homeowner or person purchasing property to know where the zoning is.”
Flanagan also said the county had issued a building permit for a house built next to the bridge in 1972, setting a precedence for elimination of the district.
Haygood brushed that aside as well, saying the district was still in place despite the house and that “things have changed a lot” in the county since 1972 in terms of how building permits are issued.
The full video of the discussion leading up to the vote on the Flanagan rezone request is below.
The clips of the commissioners staring at the screen were taken from this full video.
They did a lot more staring at the screen than the clips above suggest.