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.
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.
|CLICK TIME LINE TO ENLARGE|