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.
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.
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.