Monday, September 04, 2017

Oconee County Commissioners To Decide On Future Of Old Jail And Funding For Calls Creek Sewage Plant Expansion

**Horse Barn And Church Also On Agenda**

The Old Jail, a horse barn turned reception hall, funding for the Calls Creek sewage treatment plant, and Briarwood Baptist Church are all on the agenda of the Board of Commissioners for tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

Commissioners will decide if they want to go forward with demolition of the abandoned Jail at a rear corner of the Courthouse in Watkinsville and if they are willing to spend an additional $57,080 for design work for an expansion of the Courthouse into the space freed up by the demolition.

They also will hold a rezone hearing on a request to bring an existing reception hall on High Shoals Road between Bishop and North High Shoals into compliance with county code.

County Finance Director Wes Geddings is asking the commissioners to consider issuing bonds for a variety of water and sewer projects, including the expansion of the Calls Creek Wastewater Reclamation Facility on the northern edge of Watkinsville.

Commissioners will consider an appeal from Briarwood Baptist Church on Hog Mountain Road west of Butler’s Crossing of a three-year moratorium on expansion of the church onto adjoining land the county claims the church improperly cleared earlier this year.

Church 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 and must wait three years to move forward with expansion plans.

Jeff Carter of Carter Engineering Consultants Inc. told the county in a letter dated May 11 that “Briarwood Baptist Church had no intention of violating the ordinance, nor did they realize the ordinance existed” until it received the letter from the county.

Carter Engineering, 3651 Mars Hill Road, near U.S. 78, is representing the church in the expansion project.

Carter noted that the three-year moratorium may be waived “upon finding that the tree removal occurred as a bona fide agricultural activity” and that a minimum acreage of trees was retained.

Carter said he had reviewed the removal and “it is my opinion that the harvesting is in accordance with the waiver requirements and should therefore be allowed without moratorium for future development.”

Court Case

At roughly the same time that the county found Briarwood Baptist Church in violation of its code, it told Broome Street LLC, 1251 Overlook Ridge Road, south of Hog Mountain Road in the west of the county, that it was in violation of the same ordinance.

Broome Street is planning to build a six-building storage facility on part of a 12-acre parcel of land tucked behind the Stone Store on U.S. 441 at the intersection with Hog Mountain Road.

Broome Street also appealed the moratorium, and the Board of Commissioners turned down that appeal after a hearing on July 11.

Broome Street filed suit in Oconee County Superior Court on July 21 asking the Court to force the county to issue a Land Disturbance Permit so the company can go forward with its storage facility project.

Superior Court Judge H. Patrick Haggard heard arguments in the case last week but had not filed a ruling as of the end of the day on Friday.

Old Jail

The commissioners tomorrow night will consider a recommendation from County Administrator Justin Kirouac that the county issue a request for proposals for removal of the old Jail at the northwest corner of the Courthouse.

They also will consider a $57,080 change order in an existing contract with Precision Planning Inc. of Monroe for additional professional design services needed for architectural, design and other changes associated with expansion of the Courthouse into the space now occupied by the Jail.

The commissioners have been discussing openly the demolition of the old Jail since July, when Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell announced the possibility at a Town Hall meeting at Oconee Veterans Park.

So far, no one has come forward at any Commission meeting to voice opposition to the demolition plans.

Historical Society Tour

The old Jail, built in 1905, most recently was used by the Probation Office and sits vacant now that the Probation Office has moved into another building across the street from the Courthouse.

The Jail consists of three floors, with the second floor connected to the Courthouse via an elevated passageway. The first floor was a residential area that had been remodeled and was used for the Probation Office.

Sarah Bell, president of the Oconee County Historical Society, organized a tour of the Jail for Society members on June 8 and used my camera to make a video.

The tour began outside the Jail and then moved into the Jail via the passageway on the second floor. The tour ended on the first floor.

Larry Weatherford, a member of the Historical Society who lived in that first-floor residential section as a child, joined the tour and provided commentary about the building and about Watkinsville at the time of his childhood.

The complete video ran for just less than 40 minutes. I edited it down to the 12 minute and 30 second video below. The unedited video is available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.

OCO: Jail Tour June 8, 2017, Edited from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Reception Hall

The Laura H. Rice Trust is asking the Board of Commissioners to rezone 4.7 acres at 5414 High Shoals Road between Bishop and North High Shoals 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 rezone narrative. Although a few horses remain on the property, the stables are no longer being used for equestrian purposes, the narrative states.

One of the stables is used for wedding receptions and other similar events, and the rezone application would convert the acreage around the stable to business use while leaving the other acreage zoned for agricultural use.

The existing operation is known as The Farm at High Shoals, and the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation has booked the facility for a Stein & Stem event there from 4 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 15.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezone at its meeting on Aug. 21, though several members expressed concern about the county’s strategy in bringing a businesses on agricultural land into compliance with the existing code by requiring a business zone.

Water And Sewer Debt

The Board of Commissioners voted in February of this year to expand the Calls Creek Wastewater Reclamation Facility from its current .667 million gallons per day of treatment capacity to 1.5 MGD.

At that time, Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie said his department could finance the expansion without borrowing money.

Finance Director Geddings has told the Commissioners in a memo released on Friday that the County will need to issue bonds to finance the Calls Creek plant expansion.

The bond revenue also will cover construction of an additional elevated water storage facility to provide water for the planned Dove Creek Elementary School in the far west of the county near the Barrow County line and to cover debt from 2009 water and sewer bonds.

Geddings did not indicate in the memo the size of the bond sales.

Video Of Planning Commission

I was not able to attend the meeting of the Planning Commission on Aug. 21, but Sarah Bell did attend and made the video below.

Planning staff explained the zoning request at the front of the meeting.

The discussion of possible changes in the county’s Unified Development Code to accommodate reception halls and similar businesses on agricultural land begins at 5:05 in the video.

OCO: PC 8 21 17 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Zippity said...

As Russ Page has stated many times, the county needs an agribusiness zoning for properties such as the horse farm turned into wedding reception place.