Oconee County needs more park space.
As a result, it should identify land now for future expansion of its parks.
The county should include a natatorium with swimming and diving facilities in one of the new parks it builds.
The county should expand the staff of the Parks and Recreation Department, adding five new staff members immediately.
These are some of the preliminary recommendations of a subcommittee on Parks and Greenspace of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Stakeholders Committee. The subcommittee met on Wednesday evening at the Government Annex, 1291 Greensboro Highway (SR 15) in Watkinsville.
A Stakeholders subcommittee on Land Use met on April 26, and a Transportation subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. on May 25, also in the conference room at the Government Annex.
The reports of the two subcommittees that have met will come before the full Joint Comprehensive Plan Stakeholders Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. on May 16th at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park, 3500 Hog Mountain Road.
Creation Of Subcommittees
Only six of the 29 members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Stakeholders Committee participated in the subcommittee on Parks and Greenspace meeting on Wednesday, even though the subcommittee was created at the initiative of the citizen Stakeholders Committee.
The Land Use and the Transportation subcommittees were created on the initiative of Justin Crighton, a planner with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission. Crighton is heading up the county’s efforts to revise its 2008 Master Plan for 2018.
Nine members of the Stakeholders Committee participated in the Land Use subcommittee meeting on the 26th.
Discussion at that meeting was heated at points.
Committee member Daniel Marks, associate broker and developer at Nichols Land and Investment Company, 2500 Daniells Bridge Road, dominated the conversation, taking pro-development positions at odds with those taken by most other Committee members present.
In the end, the Land Use Committee agreed to retain the main features of the existing Land Use map and to work on modifications to the descriptions of the character areas for future discussion.
Parks and Greenspace List
The meeting of the Parks and Greenspace subcommittee lasted just more than 70 minutes, with much of the initial discussion about the demand for sports fields at the existing parks.
At the end, Crighton offered his summary of the discussion, focusing on the need for more park space, for a natatorium, for master plans, and for increased staffing.
No one from the Parks and Recreation Department was at the meeting, and none of the members of the county’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Recreation Affairs is on the Stakeholders Committee.
Many of the topics raised by the subcommittee have been discussed at meetings of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Recreation Affairs as well.
The Stakeholders subcommittee proposed that the county partner with the county School System to identify and preserve green space.
The county also should develop public-private partnerships and seek grants, Crighton said in summarizing the recommendations of the subcommittee.
The subcommittee members said that developers should share the costs of creating greenspace, through an excise tax or through impact fees, Crighton said in his summary, or find “some other way to get the developers to pay for that.”
The county needs a multi-use path, the subcommittee said, and there was considerable interest in the possibility of a rails-to-trails initiative.
Rather than build outdoor swimming pools, the county should build splash pads, the subcommittee said.
Land Use Subcommittee
The meeting of the Land Use Committee on April 26 lasted nearly two hours and lacked a central focus.
At time, several conversations among subgroups took place at the same time.
Marks placed himself at the center of the table and spoke loudly throughout the meeting
“I just don’t think Mars Hill is going to be the nightmare that everybody thinks it is going to be,” he said at one point, after committee member David Jackson raised concerns about the impact of the road, now being widened, on future development in the county.
Lisa Douglas, another committee member and a farmer, said how important it is to her to preserve green space in the county.
“Listen, nobody’s farming. It does not pay to farm,” Marks said.
Epps Bridge Centre
Committee member Laura Iyer said she was disappointed in Epps Bridge Centre, the new shopping center at Epps Bridge Road and the Oconee Connector. Expansion of the shopping center is now underway.
“It could have been a center for community,” she said of the original shopping mall. “But it is just for the shops. It is retailers rule. My question is, do we have a voice on getting a little bit of a community feel to some of these retail spaces? That’s what I would like.”
“That’s ancient history, now. Let’s move on,” Marks said. “That’s ancient history.”
“That’s why I’m on this Committee,” Iyer said. “I’m frustrated.”
“We can learn a lesson from it, and make sure we don’t allow it to go to another spot,” Jackson added.
Video Of Parks And Greenspace
The video of the meeting of the subcommittee on Parks and Greenspace is below.
Penny Mills recorded the video of the meeting, which I joined about 10 minutes after it started.
Crighton was joined by Jordan Shoemaker from NEGRC.
B.R. White, director of the Oconee County Department of Planning and Code Enforcement, also attended.
Video Of Land Use
The video of the meeting of the Land Use subcommittee is below.
The meeting lasted about two hours, but the video starts about 20 minutes into the discussion.
Sarah Bell recorded the video but was late arriving because of confusion over the venue. The earlier meetings of the Stakeholds Committee had all been at Veterans Park.
Marks is in the pink shirt, with a tie.
Crighton was joined by Eva Kennedy from NEGRC.
Planning and Code Enforcement Director White also attended.
Maria Caudill and Charles Hunt, members of the Stakeholders Committee and in attendance, also are on the county’s Planning Commission.
Video of Meeting On April 11
Crighton created breakout groups at an April 11 meeting of the full Stakeholders Committee, the most recent meeting of the full Committee.
The groups were for Land Use, Transportation, Parks and Greenspace, and Community Services.
Each Committee member was to rotate around among the four clusters, making lists of strengths and weakness of the county in the four areas.
Kennedy and Shoemaker from NEGRC joined Crighton in facilitating the discussions.
Planning and Code Enforcement Director White also was in attendance.
Penny Mills recorded the video of the meeting. She kept the camera on during the small group discussions, though only a few of the conversations are audible.
The full video is below.