Ann Stoneburner said she was motivated to help set up the program at the Oconee County Library late last month by a concern with the rewrite of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and its impact on development in the county.
The centerpiece of that program, sponsored by the Oconee County Democratic Committee and the Oconee County Progressives, was a showing of the 2008 film by Celestea Sharp, “Carving Up Oconee.” Stoneburner is vice-chair of the Oconee County Democratic Committee.
The 50 minutes of discussion that followed the film indicated that those in attendance shared Stoneburner’s general concern, and those familiar with the draft of the Comprehensive Plan focused on one particular change it contains.
The draft now under final review includes a new land use character area called Country Crossroads that has the potential to encourage development in the south of the county–something that was opposed by all of those who spoke at the library gathering.
Stoneburner and others encouraged the 40 people at the meeting to attend the public hearings on the Comprehensive Plan, which will be held at 7 p.m. on April 16 before the Oconee County Planning Commission and at 6 p.m. on April 24 before the Board of Commissioners.
Both of those meetings will take place at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
2008 Film Revisited
The Oconee County Democratic Committee and the Oconee County Progressives invited Sharp, writer, director, and producer of the 2008 documentary “Carving Up Oconee” to show and comment on the film at the March 25 meeting in the Library.
|Sharp, Glenn and Gale|
Also on the program were Courtney Gale, a former Athens-Clarke County police officer who is now a sergeant and patrol supervisor with the University of Georgia Police Department, and Tony Glenn, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.
Gale and Glenn live in Oconee County and were central characters in Sharp’s film because of the roles they played in fighting against development in Bishop and Farmington in the south of the county.
Sharp owns a farm on Old Barnett Shoals Road in the eastern edge of Oconee County and is the author of the nearly 900-page history of Bishop.
Sharp’s film documents the impact of Gale, Glenn and other Oconee County citizens as developers proposed the Townside residential development inside Bishop and a large truckstop complex on U.S. 441 in Farmington.
The program, which ran more than two-hours, was titled Carving Up Oconee–Revisited. The showing of the film itself consumed more than half of that time.
Sharp said at the film’s end that the upturn in the economy and the increased pressure in Oconee County for development, particularly residential development, means “We are right back where we were when the film was made.”
The film has several lessons that should be considered, Sharp said.
“Oconee County is still a wonderful place,” she said. “We have a lot of rural land. We are just over the rim of the metro-Atlanta area. And our schools are wonderful.
“So there is no reason that that same growth isn’t just going to charge on through now that the economy is conducive to that kind of thing, which it very much is.”
Sharp said “there is really nothing but the citizens to slow it down, shape it in a way that is good for the people who live here and for the people coming in.”
The change in the draft of the Comprehensive Plan adding the Country Crossroads character area is a “major change” because it could encourage development at many places in the south of the county that are now rural and agricultural, Sharp said.
Stoneburner and Lisa Douglas, a member of the Stakeholders Committee for the Comprehensive Plan, said they shared that view.
Douglas said she was frustrated in discussion of the Comprehensive Plan by the dominance of those calling for development in the south of the county.
Stoneburner said she had been “very disappointed” at the Feb. 5 public hearing on the draft of the plan because there was no real way to register concerns about provisions of the document.
The current version of the Comprehensive Plan is on the county web site, and Chapter 5 deals with the character areas for land use.
(The draft document lists me as a member of the Steering–or Stakeholders–Committee. I was not a member and did not participate in any of the discussions, though I did video record many of the meetings and viewed the videos recorded by Sarah Bell and Penny Mills when I could not attend.)
The inclusion of the Country Crossroads character area was the result of pressure from two different directions inside the Stakeholders Committee.
Bob Bishop, a developer, said he had land in the south of the county and wanted to be able to develop it. He was an outspoken advocate for spreading development around the county and was joined in that argument by Daniel Marks, a real estate developer.
On the other side were David Jackson, Becky Moore and others who voiced frustration with the development on Epps Bridge Parkway generally and at Epps Bridge Centre specifically.
Their complaint was that these developments were pedestrian unfriendly, dependent on the automobile, congested, and outsized.
Their call was for more decentralized development on a smaller scale that would allow people to engage in commercial activities close to their places of residence.
The outcome was the stipulation that would “Allow small ‘country crossroads’ commercial uses at major intersections throughout the county.”
I was able to attend the beginning of the March 25 meeting and to set up a camera, but I could not stay for the meeting itself.
Britton Glenn agreed to use the camera and record the entire meeting, including of the showing of the “Carving Up Oconee” film.
That video is below.
The showing of the film begins at 2:35.
The discussion of the film begins at 1:28:50.