Sunday, June 25, 2017

Watkinsville Awarded State Grant To Make Harden Hill Road More Pedestrian Friendly

In City Center

The State Road and Tollway Authority has awarded Watkinsville a grant of $298,800 for the construction of sidewalks and other improvements to Harden Hill Road.

The sidewalks will connect the city’s newly developed Watkinsville Woods city park and be linked to the city’s other sidewalk network that ties pedestrian traffic to Harris Shoals Park, the city’s community center and the new Extra Special People complex.

The construction will include curbs and gutters, signage improvements, re-striping and, where space allows, landscaping.

The city will provide $509,700 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue for the $908,100 project.

Council Meeting Announcement

Mayor Charles Ivie announced the awarding of the grant at the City Council meeting on Wednesday night.

At Ashford Memorial Methodist Church

“We are one step closer to moving forward with the entire project,” Ivie said. “I thought you all would like that.”

Ivie said the city would begin engineering studies this summer. Right of way acquisition will begin in the fall.

The city will let requests for construction proposals in January of next year, and construction should begin in April of 2018, Ivie said.

County Action

At the request of the city, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 7 of this year declared the abandonment of Harden Hill Road as a county road so it could become part of the City of Watkinsville road system.

On March 14, the city applied for the grant from the State and Road Tollway Authority.

The Tollway Authority announced on June 21 that it had approved funding for $23.6 million in grants and loans through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

The Tollway Authority received 41 applications for funding, according to a news release dated June 21.

The Tollway Authority awarded 18 grants, including the one to Watkinsville, and issued four loans.

Grant awards ranged from $31,458 to the city of Ocilla in Irwin County in the south of the state to $1.5 million to a number entities, including the city of Johns Creek in Fulton County and Gwinnett County.

Historical Value

Harden Hill Road intersects Main Street in the Center of Watkinsville opposite Simonton Bridge Road at the historic Ashford Memorial Methodist Church.

From Main Street it runs to and crosses New High Shoals Road and then Macon Highway (U.S. 441 Business), where it turns into Old Bishop Road and continues to the middle of Bishop.

According to the grant application, repeated by Mayor Ivie on Wednesday night, Harden Hill Road is one of the oldest roads in Oconee County.

It was first recorded in the 1700s as a dirt stage coach road connecting Clarke County (of which today’s Oconee County was a part) to Madison in Morgan County and beyond, the application says.

“The road has been largely unimproved for decades since it was paved in the mid-1900s,” the application states. “It is narrow and dangerous, and has high traffic levels.”

Pedestrian Focus

Watkinsville is working to encourage pedestrian traffic, the grant application states.

The sidewalks on Harden Hill Road will allow many residents of the city to walk to downtown Watkinsville shops and restaurants.

The project will incorporate water quality features along with storm draining improvements and landscaping.

A pedestrian bridge over the creek at the low point of the roadway is part of the planning.

According to the online documents submitted by the city, the application was completed by Watkinsville Council member Brian Brodrick on behalf of the Mayor and Council.


The announcement of the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank grant begins at 14:30 in the video below, which was recorded by Penny Mills.

In other action, the Council improved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that represents a 3 percent increase in total spending.

The Council has not yet set the millage rate, pending final determination of the tax digest for the city, which states the assessed value of property within the city limits.

The Council also passed a Solicitation Ordinance to make the regulation of door-to-door solicitations in the city identical to those in the county.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners, at its May 2 meeting, approved a solicitation ordinance requested by the Sheriff’s Office that requires prior registration of businesses wishing to do door-to-door solicitation and sets restrictions on sales techniques.

OCO: Watkinsville Council 6 21 17 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Women Running for U.S. And Georgia Houses Generated Excitement At Oconee Democratic Party Meeting

Against Hice and Quick

The two women were not the featured speakers at the Oconee County Democratic Party meeting on Tuesday night, but they got enthusiastic responses from those present.

Chalis Montgomery, a musician and music educator from Barrow County, told the group she intends to announce her candidacy for the 10th Congressional District seat and is seeking help in forming her campaign committee.

Deborah Gonzalez, an attorney from Athens, said she is seeking volunteers and support from Oconee County in her run for the 117th District in the Georgia House of Representatives, which includes parts of Oconee County.

The four featured speakers who came after Montgomery and Gonzalez talked about the demands of running for local office and of service once elected and were part of the Oconee County Democratic Party’s efforts to recruit Democratic candidates for upcoming elections.

Angie Eells, Democratic Party chair, noted the hopes of those present for the success of Democrat Jon Ossoff, running in the Sixth Congressional District special election that day.

Later that evening--after the meeting had ended--results showed Ossoff had lost to Republican Karen Handel in the traditionally Republican, suburban Atlanta district.

Montgomery And Issues

Montgomery said she was motivated to challenge incumbent Republican Jody Hice in part because of her seven-year-old daughter, who has rheumatoid arthritis.

She said she anticipated losses in her life, but “I never thought I’d look at losing the future for my child, or her friends, or my community.”

She said she woke up after the elections in November “and I couldn’t believe it, but I couldn’t sit still either.”

One focus of her campaign will be health care, she said. “We’ve got to have health care that works for everybody.”

Montgomery is a former children’s minister currently working as a piano teacher. She has lived in Bethlehem for 15 years.

Gonzalez And Timing

Gonzalez announced her candidacy for the 117th District seat currently held by Republican Regina Quick at a gathering in Athens earlier this month.

Gonzalez told the overflow crowd of more than 30 at the Oconee County Democratic meeting that she announced early because of the possibility that Quick will be appointed as a district court judge and there will be a special election to fill her seat.

“If not, we will have just that extra amount of months to go and run against her in 2018,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzales was very brief in her comments, saying she already knew many of those present from previous visits and was looking for people who might be willing to host a gathering on her behalf.

Following the meeting, Margaret Holt, past chair of the Oconee County Democratic Party, announced that she will moderate an open forum with Gonzalez from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Oconee County Library on Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville.

Special Program

Tracey Wyatt, who is heading up candidate recruitment efforts for the Oconee County Democratic Party, invited Paul Dotterweich, Spencer Frye, Penny Mills and Norman Garrett to share with the assembled group their experiences campaigning and holding office.

Dotterweich, a city council member in North High Shoals, focused on the importance of being able to listen to others.

Frye, a Democrat who represents Athens-Clarke County in House District 118 in the Georgia General Assembly, said holding political office is about service to the community and involves working with people with different views.

“You can’t not like somebody because they believe differently than you,” Frye said.

”Its Grueling”

Penny Mills, who ran unsuccessfully for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners in the Republican Primary last spring, said “I had a good time, and I met a lot of wonderful people, but I’ll tell you, its grueling.”

Mills said she had decided not to run again.

Garrett focused on the importance of voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in elections.

“The way you win these seats is not that you go vote, but you make sure your friends and family members go vote,” he said.


The meeting took place in the conference room of the Government Annex on the south side of Watkinsville.

I counted 30 people in the room, but several were outside in the hall that I could not see.

Rob Mishler from Fannin County on the North Carolina border was the first speaker. Mishler represented Greening Georgia, and he asked those present to support environmental issues within the Democratic Party.

The video below contains the comments of Mishler, starting at 2:50, Montgomery, starting at 14:50, and Gonzales, starting at 25:50.

Wyatt began the program involving Dotterweich, Frye, Mills and Garrett at 32:00. The four spoke in that order.

The video ends when the Democratic Party began its business meeting.

OCO: Democratic Party Meeting 6 20 2017 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Oconee County Review Committee Approved Site Plans For Retail Building Near Oconee Health Campus

Fire Station Moving

The Oconee County Development Review Committee has approved the preliminary site plans for an 11,500-square-foot retail building on Jennings Mill Road opposite the newly opened Piedmont Athens Regional Oconee Health Campus.

The retail building will be on one of four lots on a 5 acre parcel tucked between Jennings Mill Road and the Oconee Connector at SR Loop 10. The recently cleared land abuts another 2.5-acre-parcel at the corner of Virgil Langford Road and Jennings Mill Road.

The Oconee County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on July 17 for rezone of a nearby parcel between the Oconee Connector and Daniells Bridge Road that currently houses the Barber Creek Fire Station.

The county is seeking to convert that property of just less than 1 acre to business use as it prepares to move the fire station to a so-far-unspecified location in the area.

DRC Action

At its meeting on June 16 the Development Review Committee also approved the preliminary site plans for a convenience store at Belmont Road and Bob Godfrey Road in the small portion of Oconee County east of the Oconee River.

Firefighters And Rezone Wanted

The convenience store will have 1,345 square feet on each of two stories and be on 8 acres just east of the Oglethorpe County line and south of the Clarke County line.

The convenience store will not have fuel pumps.

Pam and Marsha Halloran own the property and have promised to construct a building to resemble an old-fashioned general store to serve the three-county area.

The Development Review Committee is made up of representative of departments in the county involved in development.

Health Complex

The retail building on Jennings Mill Road will be across the street from the two-building complex that presently makes up the Piedmont Athens Regional complex.

The building will front on Jennings Mill Road and follow the road’s curving contour.

The preliminary site plans shows another lot behind the planned building and two others to the building’s north.

Another 2.6-acre parcel is at the corner of Jennings Mill Road and Virgil Langford Road, and the submitted plans do not indicate how or whether that land will be subdivided.

The properties are owned by John-John Investments LLC. Gavin Griffeth of Colbert is the registered agent for John-John Investments LLC.

The DRC approvals of the site plans for John-John Investments and the Hallorans were conditional on minor changes requested during the review process.

I did not attend the DRC meeting and relied on the documents submitted as well as the draft minutes in writing this report.

Fire Station

Oconee County built the 4,800-square-foot Barber Creek Fire station in 1997, according to county tax records.

The land and building are valued at $389,007 on the 2017 tax roll.

The county is seeking to change the zoning of the property from Office Institutional Professional to Business as it prepares to sell or exchange it for land for a future fire station.

Nothing has been discussed publicly about such a sale or property swap.

The county’s rezone request for its property is scheduled to be before the Planning Commission on July 17 and the Board of Commissioners on Aug. 1.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Oconee County Announces Sole Finalist for Position of County Administrator

Justin Kirouac Named

Oconee County Commissioners, following an executive session of just less than 40 minutes, today (Wednesday) announced that Justin Kirouac, assistant city manager of Johns Creek, is the sole finalist for the position of county administrator.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to take final action on the appointment at its meeting on July 11, according to Commission Chair John Daniell.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Oconee County Industrial Development Authority Votes To Spend $35,000 To Explore Sewer Option For Gateway Business Park

Also Considering Buildings

The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority voted last week to spend $35,000 to determine if it can run a sewer line from the eastern to the western part of its Gateway Technology Business Park on the southwest edge of Bogart

The $35,000 also is for design work if running the sewer line proves to be feasible.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Oconee County Comprehensive Plan Committee Reviews Preliminary Documents Before Public Forum

July Meeting Scheduled

Members of the Stakeholders Committee updating the Oconee County Comprehensive Plan spent two hours last week reacting to a series of recommendations on four topics that will be covered by the Plan.

The recommendations were spelled out in sheets prepared by the staff of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, which is directing work on the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, and were based on earlier meetings of the Stakeholders Committee and its three subcommittees.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Citizen Comment Sought On Removal Of Daniells Bridge Road Extension In Oconee County From Transportation Planning Documents

To Accommodate GDOT

MACORTS, the regional transportation planning organization, has begun accepting public feedback on changes to its planning documents, including the removal of the controversial Daniells Bridge Road Extension and SR Loop 10 flyover from its long range plans.

The first of three public meetings on the proposed changes in the planning documents will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on June 26 at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park, 3500 Hog Mountain Road.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Attorney Announces Plans To Run As Democrat For One Of Oconee County’s Two State House Seats

Seat Held By Quick

Deborah Gonzalez, an Athens attorney, has announced that she will seek the Democratic Party nomination for Georgia House District 117, which includes three Oconee County precincts.

Regina Quick, a Republican, currently represents the 117th in the Georgia House of Representatives. Quick, also an Athens attorney, has not said if she intends to seek re-election in 2018.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Oconee County Comprehensive Stakeholders Committee To Get Report On Transportation and Infrastructure

After Two-Hour Meeting

The Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee working on the Oconee County Comprehensive Plan update will have a chance tomorrow (Tuesday) night to summarize its conclusions from a two-hour meeting it held late last month.

At the end of that wide-ranging discussion, Justin Crighton said the citizens had agreed that the county “needs to find a way to move truck traffic through the county without sending it downtown.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Brian Kemp Tells Oconee County Republicans He Can Bring Small Business Experience To Georgia Governor’s Office

Also Wants Tax Reform

Athens native Brian Kemp, seeking the Republican Party nomination in the 2018 gubernatorial election, told a gathering of Oconee County Republicans late last month that his experience as a small business owner sets him apart in the campaign.

“I have been a conservative, small business owner for over 30 years,” Kemp, who currently is Secretary of State, said. He said he is seeking the governor's office to “take that small business owner’s mentality and be the next CEO of the state.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Oconee County Commissioners Approve FY 2018 Budget And Deny Request For Business Use Of Agricultural Land

Revenue Sources Identified

Oconee County Commissioners last (Tuesday) night approved a $49.9 million Fiscal Year 2018 budget based on a projected increase of 6.2 percent in sales tax revenue and an 18.4 percent growth in real property tax revenue.

The budget assumes the Commission will hold its millage rate steady at 6.68 and that growth in real property value will produce the increased property tax revenue.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Oconee County Commissioners To Approve FY 18 Budget And Consider Special Use Request For Landscaping Business

Revenue Projections Not Released

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night is expected to give final approval to a Fiscal Year 2018 budget that is 3.4 percent greater than the budget for the current fiscal year, but the county has not yet provided detailed information on how revenue will grow to meet the budget increase.

The two primary sources of funds for the General Fund Budget, which makes up 54.0 percent of the overall budget, are sales taxes and property taxes.