The smallest project in terms of acreage on the agenda of the Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday night produced the largest citizen response.
Nine citizens came to the podium to speak against a proposal by Pat and Marsha Halloran to build a country store–in the language of the development code, a convenience store--at the intersection of Bob Godfrey Road and Belmont Road on the very eastern edge of Oconee County.
Nine people also came forward to oppose the proposal, though two of them hedged, saying that they were primarily concerned about traffic and less about the country store itself.
In the end, the Planning Commission voted 6 to 3 to recommend to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners that it approve the country store designed, according to the Hallorans, to provide needed services to the Wolfskin Community at the intersection of Clarke, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties.
In other action Monday night, the Planning Commission approved in a 6-2 vote a plan for a ministry college not far from the proposed convenience/country story on the former Green Hills Golf Course and Country Club.
The Commission approved a modification of the zoning for Downs Creek subdivision off Daniells Bridge Road and approved a rezone request for expansion of Watkinsville First Baptist Church on Simonton Bridge Road just outside Watkinsville.
The Commission postponed action on a rezone request for a residential subdivision east of Butler's Crossing at the request of developer Stonebridge Partners LLC.
The Commission Chamber in the Courthouse in Watkinsville was filled beyond capacity as the Planning Commission began its meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, and much of the crowd stayed until the final item, which was the request for special use of agricultural land to allow for the convenience store without fuel pumps.
No citizens came forward to speak on the rezone requests by Watkinsville First Baptist Church, by Downs Creek, or by the owners of 10 acres on Clotfelter Road seeking permission to build three houses.
Many in the crowd were there to support the request by the Athens College of Ministry to obtain a special use permit to build the college campus on just more than 100 acres on Barnett Shoals Road before that route takes a strong left turn into Athens-Clarke County.
Leadoff speaker for the Athens College of Ministry was President Marcia Wilbur, who said the college “is not a seminary exactly.”
The College would also serve undergraduate and nondegree students, Wilbur said, in an interdenominational, Christian program.
Wilbur was followed by eight other speakers, who praised the Athens College of Ministry, now operating out of Watkinsville First United Methodist Church, for its programs and said they are interested in the expanded offerings that will be available on the new campus.
Issues For Campus
Three people spoke against the proposal for the Athens College of Ministry, one on the grounds it was an improper uses of the agricultural zoning and the others because of increased traffic it would bring to Barnett Shoals Road.
Bob Smith, representing Green Hills Farm LLC, which owns the land, and the College of Ministry, said only 22 students are enrolled in the College at present and that the campus would be built out over phases as demand grows.
Oconee County does not provide water service to the triangle of the county east of the Oconee River where the campus will be located, and Smith said the College of Ministry will have to explore the possibility of obtaining water from Athens-Clarke County or digging a well.
No sewer service is provided by Oconee County, Athens-Clarke County, or Oglethorpe County in that area, and Smith said the College initially will rely on septic.
Pat Halloran told the Planning Commission members that he wants to build an old-style country store on the triangular 8-acre tract created by the intersection of Belmont Road and Bob Godfrey Road just as the latter moves into Oglethorpe County and becomes Wolfskin Road.
Halloran said he would not serve beer or wine, sell tobacco products, or sell lottery tickets.
Those who spoke in favor of the request for a special use to allow for the commercial operation on the agricultural land praised the Hallorans and said there was a need for the country store.
Opponents questioned what would happen if the Hallorans sold the store in the future and said the intersection at present is dangerous because of heavy traffic.
The Planning Commission added as a condition of the rezone a prohibition against selling alcohol and tobacco products and offering gambling on the site.
The Board of Commissioners will take up the recommendations of the Planning Commission from the meeting on Monday night at its March 7 meeting.
The complete video of the meeting of the Planning Commission is below.
The Green Hills Farm rezone request for the Athens College of Ministry begins at 9:05 in the video.
The Halloran request for a special use for the convenience story begins at 1:25:20 in the video.
OCO: Planning Commission 2 20 2017 Complete from Lee Becker on Vimeo.
I was at the meeting too. Thank you again Lee for all you do for our County. A lot of the people in the County I speak with worry most that with each exception granted to our current zoning, it gets easier for the next exception. We may be nearing the point where exceptions become easy to get.
Personally, I think the Ministry College is a really neat thing; however, I also think it unfair to change the dynamics of the rural setting to which most people who live in the vicinity have become very fond of.
I also think the General Store sounds like a really neat idea. In fact, in will likely go a long way toward helping to preserve the small town feel of Watkinsville, just further South. Again though, exceptions need to be carefully considered. It has often proven that once made, there is little chance of ever going back.
I moved to Snellville in 1979 and, believe it or not, it was very much like Watkinsville is today. The way things have gone in Snellville in the name of growth, profits and larger government frankly disgust me. The only thing of that ilk that could disgust me more would be if the same thing happens to Oconee County (I have lived here 14 years).
There is a very real feeling of community here. I have never experienced that at this level before. People here actually care about each other. We are one of the last hold outs for small government, individual responsibility and minimized Federal involvement. We need to resist the temptation to blow up what we have in the name of progress. I can only pray that those on our Board of Commissioners feel the same way.
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