Twelve-year-old Jack Senyitko gave a flawless presentation to the Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday night, arguing, on behalf of his family, against a special use request to operate a landscaping business on the northwest corner of New High Shoals Road and Union Church Road.
The young Senyitko’s comments won the praise of Planning Commission Chairman Dan Arnold, but not his vote.
In the end, with Arnold breaking the tie, the Planning Commission voted 6-5 to recommend to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners that it approve the special use request by Chad and Marilyn Forehand to be allowed to continue to operate a noncompliant landscaping business on land zoned for agricultural use.
Committee members ignored–if they knew–that the Forehand's business license for the landscaping operation had expired at the end of 2013 and that the Forehands are in violation of a court order to have gotten a business license and the special use permit by the end of 2016.
Planning Commission member Brad Tucker asked about the business license during the hearing on the Forehand request for the special use of the acres they own at the New High Shoals Road and Union Church Road intersection.
Tucker asked the Forehands how long they owned the business, PS Landscapes.
Marilyn Forehand said they bought the business in July of 2013.
“Were you aware that you needed a business license to operate the business?” Tucker asked.
“Yes,” Chad Forehand said. “We were operating in Watkinsville and we had a business license up through 2016 here.”
Tucker reminded the Forehands that they had been told by Oconee County Code Enforcement Building Inspector Russ Henson in April of 2016 that they needed to make sure they were in compliance with county code for the operation of the landscaping business on the site.
“I’m kind of curious why we are sitting here in May of 2017, as opposed to sooner than that,” Tucker said. “Can you give me any feel for the time line?”
Abe Abouhamdan, representing the Forehands in their request for the special use allowance, responded.
“I think you submit the special use plans way ahead of that,” Abouhamdan said. “I understand also Mr. Forehand had some family emergency. He had actually a death in the family. So that delayed the process. We submit the request way ahead of this meeting. It’s already in process at that time.”
Abouhamdan is the owner of ABE Consulting, an engineering firm, and is the chair of the county’s Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee.
County tax records show that the Forehands purchased the property in October of 2015.
They obtained a building permit for a metal frame barn on the agricultural property on Jan. 11, 2016.
On March 21, 2016, the Forehands received a compliance inspection report, signed by county Building Inspector Henson, telling them that “If the barn is to be used as a commercial operation, verify with Oconee County Planning Dept. that the proposed use complies with code.”
On July 29, 2016, county records show that Chad Forehand was cited for not having a business license for operating the landscaping business in Oconee County and for conducting business in a zone where a special use permit is required.
County Code Enforcement files show that PS Landscapes had a business permit for the county that was issued on Aug. 2, 2013, and that expired on Dec. 31, 2013.
Chad Forehand pleaded guilty to the two code violations in Oconee County Magistrate Court on Sept. 9, 2016, and was fined $600, according to Court records.
The court suspended $300 of the fine pending Forehand's purchasing a business license for 2016 and 2017 and obtaining a special use permit for operating the business at the property they own.
Forehand was given until Dec. 31, 2016, to obtain the licenses and the special use permit.
Jessica Hart, Magistrate Court deputy clerk, sent Forehand a letter on Oct. 19, 2016, restating the Court ruling.
Forehand applied for the special use permit on Oct. 20, 2016.
Hart sent Forehand a second letter on Dec. 5, 2016, again restating the Court ruling.
On March 10, 2017, Oconee County Code Enforcement Officer Paul Smith sent Hart an email indicating that Forehand was not in compliance with the Court order.
The two citations and the Magistrate Court ruling were not part of the discussion at the Planning Commission on Monday night.
Seven people, including Jack Senyitko and his parents, Tom Senyitko and Kristin Shea, spoke against the rezone.
“This is supposed to be a residential area for families to live in,” Jack Senyitko told the Planning Commission.
There can be “other places for business,” he said. “This is simply not one of them. There are many houses and other neighborhoods close to it, and if this company continues to operate, then the value will go down on the living areas.”
“Thank you Jack,” Dan Arnold said. “You might have been our youngest participant. I think you did a wonderful job.”
Tom Senyitko and Shea own the two pieces of property just to the west of the Forehand acreage, and they said a rental home they have close to the Forehand barn has been adversely affected by the landscaping operation.
Others who spoke against the rezone complained of additional traffic resulting from the business operation.
Planning Commission members Chuck Hunt, Karl Berg, Mike Floyd, Bruce MacPherson, and George Rodrigues voted to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it approve the special use request.
Tucker, Maria Caudill, Chuck Steen, John Laster, and Bill Yarbrough voted no.
The county staff had recommended against the Forehand request, and the Board of Commissioners is scheduled to make a decision on the special use permit on June 6.
In other action on Monday night, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of a request by Stonebridge Partners LLC to rezone approximately 40 acres just east of Butler’s Crossing for a single-family residential subdivision.
The request had been on the Planning Commission agenda in November, December and February, and each time the applicant pulled the request from consideration at the last minute without explanation.
Justin Greer from Williams and Associates, representing Stonebridge Partners, said the delay was the result of efforts to put some of the land on the property into a conservation land trust.
The final concept plan presented to the Planning Commission showed 32 lots rather than the 35 shown in earlier documents.
The Planning Commission also recommended approval of an eight-lot single-family subdivision on 9 acres on Hog Mountain Road southeast of U.S. 78.
That vote was 9-1, with Rodrigues voting in the negative.
The discussion of the Forehand request begins at 12:05 in the video.
Citizen comment on the request starts at 22:25.
Jack Senyitko came to the podium at 27:35.
The exchange between Tucker and the Forehands and Abouhamdan begins at 53:10.