The day after the Oconee County Planning Commission recommended that the Board of Commissioners turn down a rezone request for an auto dealership complex on SR 316, the administrative assistant to Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis set up a meeting for Davis with the firm representing the developer of the project.
Davis attended the scheduled meeting with Jon Williams of Williams and Associates on May 23–a week after the Planning Commission vote--at the firm’s offices at 2470 Daniells Bridge Road.
Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko also asked county Economic Development Director J.R. Charles to conduct an analysis of the economic impact of the project for the county.
Charles produced that report on June 3, sending a copy to Benko, the members of the county’s Industrial Development Authority and the members of the Board of Commissioners.
Charles relied on information he received from the developer in producing that report, and he sent a copy to Williams, also on June 3.
Williams used the information in that report, attributing it to Charles, in his presentation to the Board of Commissioners before it approved that rezone in a 2 to 1 vote on June 14.
Williams was representing Shaun Fagrell, general manager and partner of Mercedes-Benz of Athens, as well as land owners Elaine Duckett Crane and Lela Mae Moore Slaton, in the rezone request.
Crane of Mineral Bluff in north Georgia was asking the Board of Commissioners to change 30 acres on the south side of SR 316 just west of Virgil Langford Road from agricultural and residential use to business use.
Crane was joined in the request by Lela Mae Moore Slaton, who owns just less than 3 acres at 1050 Jimmy Daniell Road. That acreage will be part of the dealership complex.
One of the lots in the planned auto dealership complex is to be used for the future home of Mercedes-Benz of Athens, now located on the Atlanta Highway.
At the Planning Commission meeting on May 16, citizens spoke against the rezone on the grounds that it would create traffic problems as well as noise and light pollution and have a negative impact on the surrounding residential areas.
Following that hearing, the Planning Commission voted 5 to 3 against recommending the rezone to the Board of Commissioners.
Citizens voiced those same concerns at the June 14 hearing before the Board of Commissioners, but this time Williams used the assertions of a positive economic impact of the development from the report done by Charles on June 3.
Commissioners Jim Luke and William “Bubber” Wilkes voted to approve the rezone, and Commissioner Mark Saxon voted against it.
Davis would have voted if one of the three commissioners had recused himself and the other two had split their votes.
I learned of the meeting between Davis and Williams via an open records request I had done of Davis’ calendar for the period of Jan. 1 of this year through the end of July.
It shows the meeting on May 23 between Davis, Williams, and Justin Greer, economic development director of Williams and Associates.
I asked Davis in an email message on July 21 to confirm that the meeting took place .
When I did not hear from him by the end of the day, I filed another open records request, asking for any correspondence between Davis and others about the meeting or any notes taken.
That produced a copy of an email message between Davis and his administrative assistant, Tracye Bailey, on May 17, the day after the Planning Commission vote, setting up the appointment with Williams and Greer "to discuss auto dealership coming to Oconee."
The meeting was set for 2 p.m. and was to last two hours.
Davis then sent a separate email message on July 22 saying “The meeting took place.”
County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko told me in a telephone conversation on July 27 that he requested the report by Economic Development Director Charles on behalf of Rick Waller, chair of the county’s Industrial Development Authority.
Benko told me that he “assumed” that Davis also had an interest in the report. Davis is a member of the IDA.
I had earlier filed an open records request for documents and correspondence from Charles, and he provided notes indicating he had obtained much of the information in the report from a telephone conversation with Fagrell, but he did not indicate the date of that call.
Charles produced the report on June 3 and distributed it that same day to Fagrell, Williams, the members of the IDA, Benko and the Commissioners.
The document was not placed in the rezone file at the Oconee County Planning Department or put on the county’s web site, which would have made it available for analysis by those who were opposed to the rezone and spoke against it at the BOC hearing on June 14.
Commissioners Jim Luke, Mark Saxon and William “Bubber” Wilkes all told me in May that they had met with Williams to discuss the proposed rezone before the county began the rezone request.
All said they did not tell Williams how they planned to vote but were merely gaining information about the planned rezone request.
John Daniell, whose name will be on the ballot unopposed in November for election to replace Davis as BOC chairman, defended the meetings by the commissioners with developers in an interview I conducted with him on July 13.
Daniell said developers have the same rights as other citizens to meet with members of the Commission.
Daniell said the county’s economic developer director should not be used as an advocate for a rezone before the Board of Commissioners.
In all rezone requests, the Board of Commissioners makes the final decision, and the chairman votes in the case of a tie.
At present, the Commission has only three members because Daniell stepped down to run for the position of Commission Chair.
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I wanted to say thank you to Lee for the work that he does. The tax payers of Oconee county would never hear about the back room dealings and secret meetings being held on our dime. We have a government that would make Joseph Goebbels proud.
And the meeting went something like this...
Melvin Davis, "I like money".
Jon Williams, "I like money, too"!
Davis, "Wow! Two people who like money"!
Williams, "yeah, We should Hang out".
Shaun Fagrell, " I sell Mercedes-Benz! I like money and Stonehenge cramps my style".
Elaine Duckett Crane and Lela Mae Moore Slaton, "Even though we're not from around here, we really like money"!
Jim Luke, "I like money".
Bubber Wilkes, "I like Money, too"!
Mark Saxon, "I like money. But, I need to stand firm for my constituents because I want to ride the money boat until I retire from government service again and get another free pension,
John Daniells, "Let's talk about personal property rights only when it applies to lots of money changing hands therefore filling the King's coffers with tax money stolen from everyone".
I am stunned. Perpetually. Totally agree how little any of us would know without Lee's investigative efforts and willingness to report it. Wow. Thank you Lee!
Has there been any development this past year that required a rezone that wasn't met with public protest?
And you have a builder, Wiedower, running for a BOC seat and he is set up by those with development interests.
If you vote him into office forget your neighborhoods and farms -quality of life means nothing. The next fast food or car lot is more important.
There will be no voice for citizens on the BOC. It will make no difference what the Planning Commission votes or what the public wants-the pockets of a few must be filled.
I've done it many times before and would like to do it again -- thank you, Lee, for keeping us informed on all that certain people wish we would never know, and we probably would not know without the efforts of you, Sarah Bell, and a few others. Keep up the good work. I guess it's too much to ask that the elected officials put first the interests of those who elected them. Hopefully the sneaky back-room meetings, off-the-record conversations, wink-nod situations, will be coming to an end December 31.
To Anom. 6:49 A M. It may be before your time, but if my memory is correct Elaine and Jim Crane raised chickens on their land some 30 or so years ago. They closed their business because of the encroachment of subdivisions around them. Possibly Elaine moved away after Jims death and now needs the money for the sale of her land for other things. Don't blame her for wanting to sell to the highest bidder.
I too don't like the idea of the type of rezone and how it was done but don't blame her or Slaton for getting the most for their property.
Maybe you could put some investors together to raise the anti and buy the land and find something more acceptable to go there.
I pray that things will be more open in our government beginning next year.
He probably had to meet him to return the check.
Thank you Lee for all of your efforts! Sadly, the County Commission+Planning+Developer love fest has been going on for quite a long while. We've been warned of rampant development without supporting infrastructure -- and now we have the Calls Creek fiasco, we have light pollution, we have abandoned development projects that ruined the country side. Clandestine government has been going on since Davis took office. I was hoping things would be different come November, but evidently I was wrong.
"They closed their business because of the encroachment of subdivisions around them."
There are no subdivisions adjacent to that property. There are a few houses on Jimmy Daniel. Where are those subdivisions adjacent to the proposed car dealerships??
When does a politician blow the whistle on graft?
When the check bounces.
OK, all jokes aside:
This project clearly should have gone in closer to the intersection next to Caterpillar. That it was forced into property surrounded by dwellings and expensively constructed professional parks is a travesty.
Follow the money. Cui bono?
It is amazing that a taxpayer funded position was used to lobby for a rezone, using information provided only by that developer. Our economic development officer is no Beshara for sure. At least Mr. Daniel agrees that this should not be done. And despite all this development, they are raising our property taxes, despite saying that all the sales taxes from all the development would lead to lower property taxes. If you follow the money, it goes out from our pockets and into the developer pockets. I think this government should be renamed "tax and develop" because that is what they do.
I think you completely missed the point. I applaud those folks for getting as much money as they can for said property. It is their right as property owners.
But, just remember you and I will be saddled with the cost of infrastructure through these back door dealings. It has nothing to with who hangs their shingle out front. Or does it?
To Anom 4:49 PM. The subdivisions are on Mars Hill and back up to Jimmy Daniel and Jones Rd. and there were complaints about the smell from chicken houses in the area. I can remember signs posted warning new residents that they were moving into an agricultural area with many chicken houses within one mile of the signs.
Unfortunately there are more votes and money in a subdivision than a few farmers trying to make a living off the land.
Obviously more money in commercial development also!
Also it seems that we taxpayers are subsidizing the commercial development rather than commercial taxes reducing homeowner taxes.
Farm land requires less demand of government services than any other zoning in our county.
In one of Lee's articles someone said that the car dealerships will not generate enough taxes to pay for their demand from the county.
I hope that the new comm. board will look more at what it cost we taxpayers to have the convenience of the commercial development.
Make sure to go vote against Wiedower. He will vote yes on all rezone and variance request.
When I made the decision to run for Post 2, I was keenly aware that my profession would raise concern over the apparent tie to development. The reality is my expertise coupled with my affinity for our quality of life make me uniquely qualified to make the decisions that effect those interests. I would sincerely appreciate the opportunity to hear your concerns and give you the chance to get to know me personally. Please feel free to give me a call. Marcus Wiedower 706-254-3251
And so the slick sales job begins.
Chuck Horton was a voice of reason both on the School board and on the Commission board. I believe he will be again if elected in November.
Re LEE's tireless work..Applaud! again thanks for shining a light on Oconee Observations. Fine work.
As for the rationalizers out there defending the so-called Oconee "quality of life", I'm probably not alone thinking this commission has perhaps taken us past the point of no return.
We're left to cope with an apparent cobbling together of variances that has proven the county's land usage plan is worthless thanks to a BOC which simply bends to the whims of monetization and cronyism.
Whenever development is carried out the end product is a thoughtless patchwork of uncoordinated traffic ( think EppsBridge area) withB-list food establishments and absence of any overarching design aesthetic with the surroundings.
Moving ahead we may soon have an Epps Bridge extension project with a Costco, & Sunday alcohol sales while fundamental needs of out young and their Schools will continue to become more crowded, and unfinished athletic facilities will remain unfinished and fail to adapt to the emerging needs this populations.
All the while, the roads and neighborhoods that do get made will lack sidewalks and lead us to endure reliance on cars and worsening traffic and risks to roadway safety.
Parting question: Regarding public safety, why is fire department services still Running as a volunteer Fire Dept in the county while the Sherrif's dept seems contrastingly flush with resources and outreach? Something basically wrong with that arrangement.
And then the contentious issue of sewage, a conundrum. So BOC is answering that by proposing to run a pipe down people's backyards? Really. What quality of life do you foresee in 5 - 10 years?
As I said before, be sure to vote against Weidower. You honestly expect people to believe you will vote against all your developer buddys?
rightway1974, Why don't you pull your mask off if you're going to make accusations against someone? Marcus just stepped in and gave you a way to contact him to talk but yet you continue to hide behind your screen in an almost Taliban like fashion where you won't show your face?
Lee Becker, I really enjoy reading your blog but the comments here are reminiscent of days gone by of the Athens Banner Herald. Might seriously be time to look into forcing those wishing to comment to use their actual name or go back into their caves.
I monitor comments. I have rejected a few comments over the years. I also have edited some. In the latter case, I indicate that what is posted is edited. I try to err on the side of publication so people can express their views.
I would prefer that people use their own names. But I have not felt the need to require it.
Here is what is written in the right-hand column of the blog about my standards, including for comments.
MY STANDARDS FOR OCONEE COUNTY OBSERVATIONS
This is a news blog, following in the established tradition of the newsletter.
I'm a citizen of Oconee County. My experiences and aspirations for the county have influence on what I post here.
I strive to be accurate, fair and transparent.
I want to reflect events and discussions, using links to document what is known.
I want to offer a balanced presentation that recognizes different points of view and portrays the people involved with respect.
I want to tell how I learned what I have learned and be clear about any role I have played in what is being presented.
Comments are encouraged. I attempt to apply the standards of accuracy, fairness and transparency to them as well.
I hope this response is helpful.
Thanks for your feedback.
First and foremost thank you for your response. You put countless hours into your research which proves to me you're going the extra mile to keep the citizens of Oconee informed. What I can't understand is allowing someone without a face to make accusations toward others. In the past I've felt that this is one of the only news sources that covers politics to get good information without hearsay and anonymous sniping. Really wish you would consider a new policy.
The comments are NOT part of my posts. They are in response to my posts. If they are not, I don't publish them. I feel people who invest in reading the posts should have a chance to respond.
Three candidates have put themselves forward for Post II on the BOC. People are going to speculate on what each of those individuals will do if elected. I would prefer the speculators use their names. I will monitor all of the speculations.
But speculation in what each of us does when we hire someone, promote someone, or elect someone. There is no way to fact check the speculation.
I thank you for offering your point of view and will continue to reflect on it.
I get it Mr. Huff, You support Weidower. There are others here in the county that do not. I am sorry if you feel I should not voice my opinion but as of now, we are afforded that right.
Your opinion is baseless, the man even offered to meet with you and you denied him that? You have every right to your opinion but no right to spread made up gossip. Come on take the hood off and call him up.
My opinion is based on his chosen occupation. We have seen how builders vote on the planning commission, they never have a rezone or variance request that they dont like.
Lee,will the three people running for post 2 be required to release campaign finance reports?
You might want to look up the voting record of the only builder/developer on the planning commission. It's apparent you are keeping up.
Every election is also required to file campaign finance reports. I'll throw a bone your way so you don't have to wait. Marcus owns no property in Oconee, his wife owns a house in Oconee. He's never developed a piece of property and he only builds two or three custom homes a year. You'd know this if you'd asked or done some research on your own.
Campaign finance reports are filed six times during the year. The next filing is for Sept. 30.
I thought this should be posted for all to see. This is Mr. Wiedower's own quote.
My professional experience began at Beall, Gonnsen & Co. The company specialized in land planning, engineering, and property zoning matters. With seven years of experience, I went into the development and construction industry for myself. I have been involved in various projects from small infill houses to multimillion dollar homes overlooking the ocean. My partner is well versed in versed in Historic renovation as well as any commercial construction including self-storage facilities. If you can dream it, we can build it.
Sure sounds like he is willing to develop and build anything.
His track record says differently but you do realize builders do build stuff, right? Back to my original point, you going to take the veil off and call him?
Mike, You said in a previous post "In my experience when Marcus tells you he's going to do something you can count on it". I believe you. He has stated what he does in the above quote. I will not vote for him based on that.
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