Oconee County commissioners, brushing aside concerns by Athens-Clarke County residents about the negative impact of the development on their residential neighborhoods, unanimously approved a rezone request last night for the expansion of Epps Bridge Centre.
The commissioners made minor changes to the proposed bylaws and establishing resolution for the Animal Control Board, after continued requests for more dramatic change.
That policy allocates capacity for residential use for the first time since 2008, but Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie said the change would have no real effect because the county does not have sewer capacity to sell for residential use.
The commissioners awarded a contract for $52,700 for a water and sewer rate study and made a change order at a cost of $65,765 for design of Parkway Boulevard Extension, the roadway the county is building to serve as an entranceway to the expanded Epps Bridge Centre.
Over the objections of Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, the four voting commissioners unanimously approved an employee pay plan championed by Commissioner John Daniell.
Daniell last night formally announced his resignation from the Board so he can run for the chairmanship position. Davis has announced he is retiring.
Epps Bridge Centre
Two of the three citizens who spoke during the public hearing on the Epps Bridge Centre rezone asked for additional time to work with developer Frank Bishop to better buffer the commercial development from the residential neighborhoods across McNutt Creek in Athens-Clarke County.
Both were residents of the Kingswood subdivision, which lies between Jennings Mill Road and Timothy Road, and they said the data the county presented using Georgia Department of Transportation estimates of traffic counts did not mesh with their own experiences.
Oconee County Commissioner Jim Luke said the development had been in the works for two years and “slowing down now is a little late.” Luke said it was up to Athens-Clarke County to address the specific traffic concerns voiced, as shown in the video below.
What Luke did not say was that almost all of the discussions about the development prior to the Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 15 and the meeting last night were in executive session or otherwise out of the public view.
The Planning Commission and Board of Commissioner public hearings were the first opportunities citizens had to express their concerns.
The commissioners last night also approved two variances for the Epps Bridge Centre expansion allowing for changes in the parking space allocation and buffering between parcels within the shopping center.
Chairman Davis had huddled with Susan Wells, chair of the Oconee County Animal Control Advisory Board, before the opening of the meeting, as shown in the video below, and he used an unusual format in presenting the requested changes in the bylaws of that board and the resolution of the BOC creating it.
Rather than invite Wells to present the requested changes to the public and the BOC, he asked citizens who wanted to speak to raise their concerns first.
Three people did so, including Animal Control Advisory Board member Helen Fosgate, who pointed out that the documents before the BOC were not the ones requested by Animal Control Department Director Catlyn Vickers.
Fosgate and the others asked that the BOC reject the document.
Davis then invited Wells to refute the criticism. Neither Davis nor any of the Board members invited Vickers to come forward, though she was in the audience.
At the suggestion of County Attorney Daniel Haygood, the BOC dropped a line in the resolution that said a duty of the Animal Control Advisory Board was “To provide general policy oversight to the Animal Control Programs.”
Haygood also rewrote the resolution to remove as a duty “establishing policies” and said instead that the Advisory Board should advise and assist the Animal Control Director and the BOC “in connection with policies and programs.”
The commissioners accepted both changes.
Mars Hill Road Overlay
Bill Ross, who has been a consultant to the county for the Mars Hill Road Overlay District project, told the commissioners of additional changes he had made since they met a week ago and Luke, in particular, objected to the document Ross had created.
Ross said he had worked hard to come up with a landscaping standard for the corridor and was putting final touches on that.
The Board has been working on the Mars Hill Road Overlay for more than a year.
It decided last night to return to the topic again at the end of the month.
Director of the Utility Department Wayne Haynie also presented to the Board additional changes in the county’s Wastewater Treatment Capacity Policy.
Most notable was a change that holds back 20 percent of capacity, rather than the initially proposed 10 percent, to deal with unexpected demands in the future.
The Policy states the allocatable capacity is to be divided up so 40 percent is for residential use, 40 percent is for commercial use, and 20 percent is for industrial use.
Back in 2008 the commissioners agreed that no future sewer capacity would be used for residential use, but County Attorney Daniel Haygood last week said that the commissioner’s action was never put into an ordinance and so never actually put into effect.
Haynie told the commissioners last night that his new policy, in fact, would not make any more capacity available for residential use because the 40 percent of capacity, even when the Calls Creek plant is expanded as proposed, already is being used for residential use or has been sold for that purpose.
The commissioners approved a request by Haynie to spend $52,700 with Professional Resource Management Group Inc. from Maitland, Fla., for a water and sewer rate study.
The goal is to make sure the rates represent the actual costs of water provision and sewer treatment for the Utility Department.
Davis had challenged Haynie at the BOC meeting on Feb. 23 to justify the decision, since Haynie was recommending the highest among three bidders.
Last night, Haynie stood his ground, arguing that the other bidders had not submitted responsive bids.
Parkway Boulevard Extension
Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara last night asked the commissioners to approve the $65,765 change order with ABE Consulting Inc. for design of Parkway Boulevard Extension, which will connect the Oconee Connector with the stub of Parkway Boulevard at Kohl’s department store.
The BOC has approved a $3.35 million contract with Simpson Trucking and Grading Company of Gainesville to build the roadway, which will serve as an entranceway to the Epps Bridge Centre expansion.
Beshara said several of the land owners, including Epps Bridge Centre developer Bishop, have asked for a change in the design to lower the road.
The change order will pay for the design work associated with that modification of the existing plans.
Beshara said the contract with Simpson would be reduced by $65,000 because less work would be involved with the new design than the old.
The county has been working on a pay plan for its employees for nearly a year, with Commissioner Daniell taking the lead.
The goal has been to deal with pay compression, identified by a study done by for the county by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission as a problem for the county.
Davis has objected to the plan, though he has not specified what alternatives he would offer.
Last night the Board finally accepted unanimously Daniell’s plan, though Davis said repeatedly he wanted to register his continuing “questions” about the action taken.
Funding For Feasibility Study
The commissioners last night also approved a contract for redesign of the county’s web site with CivicPlus of Manhattan, Kan., for $38,922, to be taken out of unbudgeted monies in the county’s General Fund. The annual maintenance fee will be $6,321.
I asked the commissioners, given the availability of unbudgeted revenue, to move forward with a feasibility study of an upgrade to or replacement of the county’s Animal Shelter off U.S. 441 in the far south of the county. The facility is subject to frequent flooding.
County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko said the county would not use General Fund revenue for the feasibility study, estimated to cost $10,000, but continue to wait until Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue accumulates.
Benko said he was confident he will have a request for proposals for the feasibility study completed by June 30.
None of the commissioners objected to Benko’s delay in action on the feasibility study, which has been requested by the Animal Control Department.
Video of the discussion of the Animal Control Advisory Board bylaws and resolution is below.
This video covers the entire section of the agenda dealing with the topic.
The video that follows is of the part of the zoning hearing during which citizens could comment on the request.
No one other than the applicant spoke in favor of the request.
Also included is the discussion of the citizen comments by the commissioners and the final vote. The clip of the comments from Commissioner Luke is taken from this longer video.