The Oconee County Board of Commissioners last (Tuesday) night approved the appeal by Briarwood Baptist Church of a construction moratorium imposed by the county, allowing the church to go forward with expansion plans at its Hog Mountain Road location.
The Commissioners also agreed to go forward with plans for demolition of the Old Jail at the rear of the Courthouse in Watkinsville to allow for expansion of the Courthouse.
The Board took no action on–but raised no objections to–a proposal that the county sell $15 million in bonds to finance expansion of the Calls Creek Waterwater Reclamation Facility and construction of an elevated storage facility to accommodate a new school.
The hearing of the appeal for Briarwood Baptist Church brought out a large crowd, overflowing the Commission Chamber in the Courthouse in Watkinsville. The crowd applauded and filed out of the room after the unanimous vote of the Commission.
Nature Of Appeal
In April of this year, the county informed Briarwood Baptist Church, at the corner of Hog Mountain Road and Robinhood Road, that it was in violation of county code because of the clearing of the adjoining property without a proper permit and that it must wait three years to move forward with expansion plans.
Jeff Carter of Carter Engineering Consultants Inc. told the commissioners last night that the church met all of the criteria established in the ordinance that would allow the county to waive the three-year moratorium.
Included were a contract for the harvesting of the trees and the requirement that certain numbers of trees remained.
The Commission heard from a number of members of the church, including from the pastor, all of whom argued that the planned church expansion was badly needed so the church could continue to serve the community.
In July the Board of Commissioners denied an appeal of Broome Street LLC, 1251 Overlook Ridge Road, south of Hog Mountain Road in the west of the county, of imposition of a moratorium imposed on its plan to build a storage facility on U.S. 441 outside Watkinsville.
Broome Street filed suit, and Superior Court Judge H. Patrick Haggard heard arguments in the case last Thursday. Judge Haggard had not filed a ruling on the case by late today.
In a 3-1 vote, the Board voted to issue a request for proposals for demolition of the Old Jail, built in 1905 and currently unused.
The negative vote came from Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes, who said he wanted to retain the jail for its historical value. He proposed it be used as a museum or for a similar purpose.
One person, who did not give his name or address, also spoke in favor of retaining the jail. (John Daniell identified the person after the meeting as James Hunter.)
Daniell, who has been the primary advocate for demolition of the Old Jail, said the county was not making a final decision by issuing the request for proposals. That decision would be made once those bids were received.
The county did vote–this time with Wilkes’ support–to spend a little more than $57,000 for design work for expansion of the Courthouse into the space that would be made available by demolition of the Old Jail.
The Farm Rezone
The Laura H. Rice Trust asked the Board of Commissioners to rezone 4.7 acres at 5414 High Shoals Road to allow for continued use of a horse barn on the property for receptions.
The acreage is part of a larger 305.6-acre tract that was planned and developed as a private, equestrian estate, according to the presentation of the rezone request last night.
One of the stables is being used for wedding receptions and other similar events, under the name The Farm.
Russ Page, an advocate for farmland preservation in the county, spoke against the rezone, arguing that the county needs an agritourism ordinance to accommodate this and other similar requests.
The Rice Trust was seeking to rezone the 4.7 acres for business use as well as variances allowing the business to operate without a buffer from the surrounding agricultural land and to dispense with paving the parking area.
At the Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 21, members raised the same concerns as Page raised and mentioned Page’s advocacy for an agritourism ordinance.
The Board of Commissioners approved the rezone and the variance requests unanimously, but Commissioner Chuck Horton said the Commission would consider Page’s request.
Oconee County Finance Director Wes Geddings told the Board that the county needs to issue $15 million in bonds to cover the costs of the expansion of the Calls Creek sewer plant and construction of the water storage tank for the Dove Creek Elementary School.
The sewer plant expansion will cost $13.4 million, Geddings said, and the water tank will cost just less than $2 million.
The Utility Department has some money it can use for these projects, Geddings said.
Geddings is proposing that $2.7 million from the bond sales be used to pay off bonds issued for water and sewer projects in 2003 and 2009.
The 20-year bonds will be retired by income from water and sewer customers, Geddings said.
During discussion of the proposed expansion of the Calls Creek plant, Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie said he did not anticipate borrowing money for the project.
Geddings said the decision by the Board of Commissioners to refund $3.2 million in sewer capacity fees and of the Board of Education to build the Dove Creek Elementary School on Hog Mountain Road in the far west of the county necessitates the sale of the bonds.
The video below is of the meeting last night.
The appeal of the Briarwood Baptist Church moratorium starts at 1:58 in the video.
Discussion of the bond issue begins at 18:30.
Discussion of the request for proposals for the jail begins at 30:40.
Discussion of the Rice Trust rezone for The Farm begins at 38:40. Page’s comments begin at 44:50.
Discussion of the contract for the design work at the Courthouse begins at 52:20.