The Stakeholders Committee working on a revision of the Oconee County Comprehensive Plan gave preliminary approval last week to the preliminary reports of two of its subcommittees, one on Parks and Recreation and the other on Land Use.
The Parks and Recreation Subcommittee report noted that Subcommittee members said there was a need for more parks in the county, for more multi-use fields at parks for sports such as lacrosse and soccer, and for passive parks with walking trails and green space separated from organized sporting activity.
Developing a Land Use map is the key assignment of the Stakeholders Committee, but, in the Subcommittee meeting and again of the full Committee last week, the citizens voiced a wide range of concerns and differences of opinion that indicated much work remains to be done.
Justin Crighton, a planner with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission leading the county’s efforts on its 2018 Comprehensive Plan, said he learned a lesson from the April 26 meeting of the Land Use Subcommittee that he applied to the May 3 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Subcommittee.
The lesson was that the citizens need more guidance than he had anticipated.
Land Use Map
Crighton has said repeatedly that the Stakeholders Committee needs to identify what the county has at present, what it wants for the future, and how it plans to get where it wants to go.
For the Land Use Map, the citizens need to start with the existing Land Use Map created 10 years ago, decide if they want to make changes in terms of what kind of development should go where, and decide if the character scheme the county uses in defining appropriate land use needs to be modified.
The citizens have made little progress in discussing the map or the character scheme.
Instead, the Committee has spent much of its time debating problems of pedestrian movement in the existing Epps Bridge Centre shopping complex on the Oconee Connector and fears that the county will become like Gwinnett County
The Stakeholders Committee is made up 24 citizens appointed by the Board of Commissioners as well as a representative of each of the county’s four cities and of the county School System.
Land Use Map
The Land Use Map is the most important part of the Comprehensive Plan because it is the reference point used by the Planning and Code Enforcement Department staff, by the members of the Planning Commission, and by the Board of Commissioners in evaluating rezone requests.
The Board of Commissioners incorporated a more detailed land use map as part of the Mars Hill Overlay District ordinance it passed last year.
At one point in the discussion, the ordinance would have required the Board of Commissioners to change the land use map before it could approve a rezone request at odds with the map.
In the end, the Commission did not include that feature, but County Attorney Daniel Haygood reminded the BOC at a work session earlier this year that the option still existed to make the county-wide Land Use Map now being revised one that could not be violated in a rezone decision.
Land Use Report
The Land Use Subcommittee report that Crighton presented to the full group at the meeting on May 16 did note concern with development along Mars Hill Road and about the consequences of construction of the new school on Hog Mountain Road in the far west of the county.
The Subcommittee discussed at its April 26 meeting removing a portion of Community Village character area along Highway 78 adjacent to some of the existing residential subdivisions.
The creation of nodal development along Hog Mountain Road, U.S. 441 and SR 15 and the recommendation that water and sewer be provided to these areas would be major changes in the Land Use Map.
The Subcommittee report also noted the need for character areas to have a more in-depth description of uses and more compatibility with existing uses.
Parks And Recreation Report
The Parks and Recreation Subcommittee report was a list of the interests of those who attended the meeting on May 3.
The report calls for placing parks throughout the county and not having one central area for all activities.
It also called for increased utilization of Heritage Park in the far south of the county and for a rails to trails initiative.
It recommended building a natatorium and adding splash pads in current parks.
The Subcommittee recommended more collaboration with the Board of Education to identify and preserve green space, developing public-private partnerships, seeking additional grants, and finding a way to require developers to share the costs of creating green space.
May 16 Meeting
Crighton tried–with only limited success–to get the citizens to focus on the content of the Subcommittee reports at the meeting on May 16.
The reports represented his summary of the discussion that took place at the Subcommittee meetings rather than something that the Subcommittee members had agreed upon.
“I wish we could put in words that we could have a feel, like a community feel, a green space feel,” Laura Iyer said at the meeting last week. “We seem to want to have this, that Oconee is farmland, green space, conservation. We want that feel. How do we get that even in our retail areas?”
Crighton said that Epps Bridge Centre “has been brought up time and time again because it seems like a sea of asphalt.”
“Epps Bridge and all of that is already done,” Bob Bishop said. “Do we want another one of those? Probably not.”
Bishop said the message he thinks the group should give to the Board of Commissioners is “We want neighborhood shopping. We want clusters of things around that self-support, that will support a neighborhood look.”
Attendance At Meetings
Only 15 of the 29 Stakeholder Committee members were present when the meeting started at 6:30 p.m. on the 16th, and another showed up a half hour later.
Crighton counted nine citizens present at the April 26 meeting of the Land Use Subcommittee and six at the Parks and Recreation Subcommittee meeting on May 3.
A third Subcommittee on Transportation will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Government Annex on the south of Watkinsville.
The full Stakeholders Committee will meet again on June 13.
The May 16 meeting took place in the Community Center in Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.
Eva Kennedy and Jordan Shoemaker from NEGRC joined Crighton at the front of the room during the discussions.
The complete video of that meeting follows.