Sunday, May 22, 2016

Three Oconee Commissioners Say They Met With Representative Of Proposed Auto Dealership Development

”Only Listened”

All three of Oconee County’s voting commissioners acknowledge meeting with the representative of the developer seeking to rezone properties on SR 316 at Virgil Langford Road for auto dealerships, but each said he has not yet decided how to vote on the request.

Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes said he met with Jon William of Williams and Associates to discuss the project, and Commissioner Jim Luke said he met with Williams and with another representative of the applicant.

Commissioner Mark Saxon responded after an initial posting of this story saying that he, too, met with Williams to discuss the multi-dealership complex on nearly 30 acres on the south side of SR. 316 just west of Virgil Langford Road.

The Planning Commission on Monday night voted 5 to 3 against recommending the project for Board of Commissioner approval after citizens voiced concerns about the plans.

The issue is scheduled to come before the Board of Commissioners for final action on June 7.

Williams And Associates

The rezone narrative submitted to the Oconee County Planning Department on April 20 indicates that developer “TT of Athens” had engaged Williams and Associates, an engineering and land planning firm located at 2470 Daniells Bridge Road in Oconee County, to assist in the development.

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Mercedes-Benz of Athens was identified at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday night as the planned occupant of the first lot in the complex to be developed. Mercedes-Benz of Athens currently is located at 4735 Atlanta Highway.

TT of Athens apparently is part of the largest privately-held dealership group in the U.S., Automotive Management Services Inc., owned by Terry Taylor of West Palm Beach, Fla.

The Planning Commission meeting on Monday was the first opportunity for individual citizens to express their views on the plans.

The Commission will hold a second pubic hearing on the request before its scheduled vote on June 7.

Wilkes, Luke and Saxon

Wilkes and Luke said their meetings with Williams were to discuss the project and the rezone request.

“I have met with Jon,” Wilkes wrote to me in an email message on Friday. “I listened to what he had to say and thanked him.

“Over the years, I have met with many people on rezone matters,” Wilkes continued, “but never have I given any of them any indication of how I would vote.”

Luke told me in an email message on Saturday that he, too, had met with Williams and that “Most of the conversation was Mr. Williams explaining the concept plan. I did not indicate the way I would vote on the rezone. The fact is, I don’t know myself how I will vote!”

Luke said a “representative of the applicant” other than Williams also was present but did not identify that person.

Gerry Whitworth with Whitworth Land Company of Athens is acting as the primary contact person for the land owners, according to the rezone narrative.

Email Exchange

I had written via email to Luke, Saxon and Wilkes individually late on Thursday evening asking each if he had met with Williams or any other representative of the parties involved in the rezone.

When I didn’t hear from Luke and Saxon, I sent each of them a text message early on Saturday.

I also sent Saxon another email message late on Saturday.

Saxon responded just before noon, a few minutes after I posted the story.

"Yes I have met with Mr. Williams to see the proposed project and no, my position on any project is never stated until I vote in a public meeting on subject matter," Saxon wrote.

Luke is retiring from the Commission at the end of this term, and Wilkes’ term is not up for another two years.

Saxon is up for reelection on Tuesday.

Planning Commission Meeting

I was not able to attend the meeting on Monday night, but Sarah Bell, who did and who video recorded the session as an archive for the blog, told me that about 20 citizens showed up at the meeting and none spoke in favor of the rezone.

Those who did speak, according to Bell, raised concerns about traffic, light and noise pollution and about additional stress being put on the sewer lift station on Mars Hill Road near the project.

That lift station, which pumps waste to the county’s Land Application System site on Rocky Branch Road, is a frequent source of complaints about odor.

The applicant is seeking a variance to the buffer requirements of the county’s Unified Development Code, but that request was not under consideration by the Planning Commission.

Project Details

Elaine Duckett Crane of Mineral Bluff in north Georgia filed the application for the zoning change for the roughly 30 acre-tract in conjunction with Lela Mae Moore Slaton, who owns just less than 3 acres at 1050 Jimmy Daniell Road.

Slaton, according to the rezone narrative, will sell part of her acreage to the future developers to give the project access to Jimmy Daniell Road.

Another access will be on Virgil Langford Road.

According to the narrative, lots within the development will be for sale to individual new car dealerships or others interested in related businesses.

The project will have multiple buildings totally 160,767 square feet in size and will be built in phases.

A single lot and related infrastructure will make up the first phase. Construction on that initial part of the project is expected to begin in early 2017.

Other Zoning Decisions

The Oconee County planning staff recommended approval of the dealership project, but the Planning Commission rejected that recommendation.

The Planning Commission did recommend approval of a request by Extreme Fireworks of Alpharetta to allow operation of a year-round retail fireworks store in Manders Crossing shopping center at Cliff Dawson Road and Mars Hill Road.

The property already is zoned for business use, but a retail fireworks operation will require a special use approval from the Board of Commissioners.

The Planning Commission also approved a request by Vintage Oak Farm at 6305 Hog Mountain Road to bring an existing operation of a reception hall on agricultural land into compliance with county ordinances by rezoning the land for commercial use.

Only Three Votes

The fireworks and reception hall rezones also will be before the Board of Commissioners at its June 7. That meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

The Board of Commissioners only has three voting members at present because of the resignation of John Daniell, who is running unopposed on Tuesday for the Board of Commission chair position.

Melvin Davis, current chair, is retiring.

The chair votes only in the case of a tie among the other commissioners.

Note: An earlier version of this post reported the vote of the Planning Commission on the Crane rezone as 7 to 2. The draft minutes of the meeting indicate the vote was 5 to 3. I relied on the report of the vote from two people at the meeting. I apologize for the error.


Caroline said...

Excellent reporting again! Is it not unethical that commissioners
meet with a rezone applicant prior to any pubic vote on the matter?
Who known what went on??

Anonymous said...

40,000 residents in Oconee County. Every single adult county resident I know is more qualified than Bubber Wilkes to be a commissioner. He brings absolutely nothing to the in the heck was he elected?? We need an electorate that's informed on local issue's...voters simply aren't paying attention.

Lee Becker said...

This is an edited version of a comment left on the blog.

They are going to vote to approve it. How can such a meeting be legally held without public knowledge? They want this county to be just like Gwinnett county. Vote the whole lot of them out.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I think Bubber Wilkes is a remnant of the "good ol' boy network" in Oconee County and I HOPE that this network is coming to an end. A person is not necessarily the best to serve, just because they "lived here all their life" or managed to get elected to a position they said that they would make part-time (but didn't). A broken campaign promise right there.

Xardox said...

Not a bad project in itself,
but clearly is being wedged into the wrong corner.
Big money, deep pockets, more of the "tax base" mantra tail
wagging the county dog.
The appearance of impropriety alone should sink this one.

Zippidy said...

I agree with all of you. Mr. Wilkes is from a large, long term, Oconee county family and his family and friends do vote. I passed a voting area today in the south end of the county and it was very busy. I hope all of you with reservations about the current commissioners did vote and got those that agree with you to vote. Otherwise, the current group will be re-elected and the development will continue as at present, without much thought.

Anonymous said...

Just because a project isn't what you want or a growth trend isn't what you want doesn't mean there isn't thought put into it.

rightway1974 said...

That is a lame excuse and you know it. They dont listen or care what the oppposition has to say. They have made their minds up way before public comment is sought.

Anonymous said...

So, Lee,is there any ethics rule or other rule about commissioners meeting with a rezone applicant prior to any pubic vote?

Lee Becker said...

The county's ethics ordinance for commissioners does not speak to this issue. It is up to the commissioners to decide if they feel this is appropriate. The three feel it is.