Saturday, April 28, 2018

Oconee County Commissioners Eliminate Comprehensive Plan Character Area In Response To Citizen Complaints

***Apalachee Citizens Also Make Request***

In quick order on Tuesday night, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners eliminated the Country Crossroads Character Area from the 2018 Comprehensive Plan.

The change, agreed to by the commissioners following a public hearing on the draft plan, was a response to criticism that inclusion of the Country Crossroads Character Area could lead to commercial development in the south of the county.

The Board also agreed to schedule a public hearing on May 22 on the proposed change in the county development code to greatly restrict the use of slab foundations in residential development in the county.

The Board agreed to make a final decision on the code change on June 5.

A representative of the Greater Apalachee River Community asked the Oconee County commissioners to support what the group said is an expected vote by the Morgan County Board of Commissioners to oppose construction of an intake facility on the Apalachee River in Morgan County.

The Board also tentatively agreed to spend nearly $900,000 on a 70-foot ladder truck for the new Fire Station 8 under construction on Virgil Langford Road and $136,000 as part of a $2.3 million state plan to replace the Clotfelter Road bridge at Barber Creek.

Character Areas

Seven of the 11 citizens who spoke during the public hearing Tuesday on the 2018 Comprehensive Plan called for elimination of the Country Crossroads character area from the document.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac, Clerk Kathy Hayes

A Character Area is a broad description of the types of development that the county would expect to take place in designated locations around the county.

The Country Crossroads were described in the draft version of the plan as “small commercial areas that offer limited local convenience goods and services to adjacent single-family and farming communities at historic crossroads in the rural and agricultural areas of the county.”

Accepted uses included “convenience retailers, local groceries, family-run restaurants, ‘feed and seed’ stores, hardware stores and gas stations.”

As at the Planning Commission meeting on April 16, citizens from the south of the county said they moved to that area to avoid commercial development and didn’t find it problematic to travel to more developed areas of the county to get groceries and needed services.

The Planning Commission, in a 9 to 1 vote on April 16, sent the Comprehensive Plan forward to the Board of Commissioners with a recommendation of adoption as written.

Board Response

Following the public comment on Tuesday, Board of Commissioner Chair John Daniell said he was aware of lot of concern about the Country Crossroads Character Area.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac said the Character Area had been referenced in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, which will be replaced by the new 2018 document, but was not shown on what was then called the Future Development Map.

The Future Development Map is called the 2040 Character Area Map in the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, and it identifies two areas as Country Crossroads—Farmington in the far south of the county and Eastville just north of Hog Mountain Road at Colham Ferry Road.

Both are unincorporated areas of the county but were small commercial centers in the past.

“Administratively I see very little value to the Character Area,” Kirouac told the Board in reference to the Country Crossroads designation.

“I say we have consensus to remove that item from the Comprehensive Plan,” Daniell said, looking at the other four commissioners.

Water And Sewer

The Comprehensive Plan was written by Justin Crighton and other planners at the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, with input from a 29-member citizen Stakeholders Committee assembled by the Board of Commissioners.

Early deliberations showed a divide on the Committee between those who wanted to encourage development of the south of the county and those who were strongly opposed to such development.

Some Committee members proposed extending county water and sewer services to facilitate development around the county.

The Country Crossroads Character Area was a type of compromise. It allowed some limited development in the south of the county but did not link the development to water and sewer.

At the meeting on Tuesday night, Commissioner Chuck Horton said a weakness of the draft Comprehensive Plan is that it makes no reference to the county’s Water and Wastewater Master Plan, now being revised.

Horton said the document should indicate that development in the county would reflect decisions on water and sewer service areas rather than suggest that development would dictate where water and sewer were to be provided.

Next Step

Citizens who spoke at the meeting on Tuesday night called for other changes in the Comprehensive Plan, such as inclusion in the recreation section of “Blueways” or water trails and an environmental center.

Three of the 11 speakers asking for modifications in the Comprehensive Plan had been members of the 29-member Stakeholders Committee.

Communication between Crighton and the Stakeholders Committee frequently broke down during the 14 months the group met to work on the plan, and only seven of the Committee members attended the final session on April 14.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Karen Hilyard, who cast the sole negative vote at the Planning Commission, criticized the county for not doing more to communicate about the development of the Comprehensive Plan.

Hilyard said her negative vote, however, was because of her opposition to the Country Crossroads Character Area.

County Administrator Kirouac said he would draft a list of changes that could be made to the Comprehensive Plan before it is finally approved by the Commission at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Once approved, the county will send the Plan to the state Department of Community Affairs.

Apalachee Intake

During the citizen comment section of the meeting on Tuesday, Amy Lanclos, 1670 Gober Road, in Oconee County, said she anticipates that the Morgan County Board of Commissioners will not support the plans for an intake facility on the Apalachee River in Morgan County.

“We are asking that our commissioners in Oconee County respect the opinion of our neighboring county and take the same position of opposition to the intake being located in Morgan,” Lanclos said.

Walton County has under option 202 acres on High Shoals Road in Morgan County as a possible location of an intake facility to provide water at some point in the future for an expanded Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

Oconee County and Walton County are partners in the reservoir project.

“We are not asking that you oppose the intake,” Lanclose said. “We are asking that you respect at least the opinion of our neighbor and in the interest of good relations with Morgan stand with them in opposition to the intake in Morgan County.”

Adam Mestres, county administrator for Morgan County, told me in a telephone conversation yesterday that a resolution stating opposition to the water intake facility is on the agenda for the Morgan County Board of Commissioners meeting to be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Slab Foundations

County Administrator Kirouac told the Oconee County commissioners on Tuesday they needed to set time for a public hearing if they wanted to move forward with plans to revise the county’s Unified Development Code to specify the types of foundations allowed on residential developments.

Kirouac acknowledged that the Planning Commission on April 16, in an 8 to 2 vote, recommended against the proposed change.

Kirouac had told Planning Commission that the proposed changes merely codify what the Board of Commissioners has been doing in rezone cases.

The proposed change would limit the use of slab foundations—as opposed to basement and crawl-space foundations—in subdivisions platted after Jan. 1, 2018, but the proposal made exceptions for minor subdivisions and developments catering to the elderly.

The residential construction industry strongly has opposed the changes, which will now be finally decided upon on June 5.

Ladder Truck

County Finance Director Wes Geddings asked the Board to authorize spending $886,324 on a ladder truck for the new fire station on Virgil Langford Road that will serve the commercial area of the county, replacing the existing facility on the Oconee Connector.

Construction of the truck will take six to nine months, Geddings said, and will be ready when the fire station is ready for occupation.

The truck will be built by Sutphen Corporation in Dublin, Ohio.

The money for the truck will come from a complicated arrangement the county made to swap land from the old station for the property on Virgil Langford Road, Geddings said.

The Board put approval of the contract on the consent agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, meaning it will be approved without further discussion unless a commissioner asks for further deliberation.

Clotfelter Bridge

County Public Works Director Emil Beshara told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the Georgia Department of Transportation has agreed to replace the Barber Creek bridge on Clotfelter Road and is asking the county only to contribute $136,000 in right-of-way costs.

Beshara said the Barber Creek bridge has one of the lowest efficiency ratings of any of the 36 bridges in the county, but he did not know how the state had selected that bridge for replacement.

The county spent $30,000 in upgrades to the bridge only seven years ago, Beshara said.

The Department of Transportation is proposing that preliminary engineering for the bridge replacement begin in July of 2019, that right-of-way acquisition begin in 2021, utility relocation would be in 2023, and the construction contract also would be let in 2023.

Total cost would be nearly $2.3 million, Beshara said.

The Board put approval of the agreement with the state on the consent agenda as well.


I was not able to attend the April 24 meeting because of a scheduled medical appointment.

Penny Mills did attend and recorded the video below.

Lanclos made her comments on the Apalachee River intake at 1:11 in the video.

Discussion of the proposed changes to the Unified Development Code section on foundations begins at 3:31 in the video.

Discussion of the Comprehensive Plan is at 4:36 in the video.

Geddings presented the fire truck proposal at 37:38.

Beshara reviewed the Clotfelter Road proposal at 45:04.

OCO: BOC 4 24 18 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

I guess the residents of south Oconee County are not very environmentally friendly since they say it is no problem to travel ten miles for a loaf of bread. Others may have a different opinion but it seems the people that yell the loudest get their way. Frankly, I don’t know why we appoint committees and then change everything it took a year to work through. Why do we need commissioners if a few people in the south of the county are running the county, first no bypas and now no country stores.

Mike Horsman said...

"I guess the residents of south Oconee County are not very environmentally friendly since they say it is no problem to travel ten miles for a loaf of bread."
-So, in your estimation, it is more environmentally friendly to cut down trees and develop rural areas? Can it also be estimated that you think people should not live in the country but rather in urban areas so cars are less needed? I'm not buying it.
Most people who live in the country work elsewhere and pick up groceries, gas, hardware, feed, etc. while they are en-route. Part of living in the country includes planning ahead.
Lastly, people are flowing into our county from Gwinnett County and elsewhere mainly to escape urban sprawl. Urban sprawl, starts with people giving up their freedom for convenience. Oconee County MUST retain it's rural nature while balancing very controlled growth lest we become the next Gwinnett County.
The reason we need commissioners is to DEFEND the will of the residents, not IMPOSE the will of profiteering developers. True Oconee Countians have never swallowed the pill that makes one think they are not smart enough to make their own decisions.
So, get used to Oconee Countians, from the North AND South ends, raising their voices to defend her. If folks don't love Oconee County for what she is, the easiest ways out are Hwy 53 to 316 or 441 North back to Clarke County.

Anonymous said...

Why are we only defending one section of the county? In the north and central part of the county, citizens who have around for a long time did not get a vote and if it were not for the UGA property there would be very little green space. So what makes the south Oconee trees and fields more valuable to the environment. The individuals at the commission meeting were not defending the county, just their section. In other words forget about the rest, let the stores be built so I can pick up what I want on my way to the area I don’t want touched.

Zippity said...

Some did oppose development in the north when it started. I have lived here a long time and remember when mules grazed where Publix is now. Development started with transportation changes (conversion of numerous dirt roads, 316, etc) and with the great improvement in the public school system. Development along a major roadway as in the Epps Bridge Road area is not possible, and perhaps is inappropriate to stop. The comp plan does advocate for more greenspace everywhere and for non-vehicle connections between residential areas and parks/greenways. It is important for citizens to be involved. And we are lucky our current local government allows us to be involved. The commissioners have a difficult job.

Xardox said...

No biggie. These high-priced pretty colored maps are but "suggestions."
Their only utility is to be pointed to during wrangles about zoning and business licenses. Commissioners are still free to vote how they please.