Oconee County commissioners Tuesday night delayed until Oct. 2 their decision on a rezone for a proposed shopping center between Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road just south of Malcom Bridge Elementary and Malcom Bridge Middle schools.
The commissioners made that decision after receiving only opposition from residents in neighborhoods surrounding the proposed development, hearing from and interacting with the developer, and getting input from county staff.
“I think there’s certainly been enough questions,” Commissioner Chuck Horton said in making the motion to postpone the decision. “I certainly don’t have a problem having 30 days to decide.” Commissioner Mark Thomas seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
At issue is how to manage the implications of decisions made by commissioners more than 14 years ago to encourage commercial development in a small strip of land now surrounded by residential development and a major school campus.
The Commission will not hold another public hearing when it meets on Oct. 2. It simply will take up the discussion with staff and possibly the developer where it left off Tuesday night.
In other action Tuesday, the Commission received a detailed report from a representative of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs on the Georgia Hotel/Motel Tax, which the county wants to use in conjunction with a Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Change in Plans
Lenru Development LLC is seeking to modify the plans approved in 2004 for development of 7.5 acres that lie between Malcom Bridge Road and Lenru Road where the two roads meet south of Mars Hill Road.
The 2004 proposal allowed for 21 buildings, each with a maximum size of 10,000 square feet. The current proposal is for eight buildings, but with the maximum square footage of 20,000.
The 2004 proposal had only two entrances, one on Lenru Road and one on Malcom Bridge Road. The current proposal is for two entrances on each road.
The 2004 proposal was for a series of small shops, including restaurants designated as “of a neighborhood scale.”
The 2018 proposal will include primarily restaurant and retail tenants, according to the zoning narrative submitted by the developer, as well as other shops and offices.
Lenru Development is petitioning for a rezone of its property to allow development of a commercial shopping center with modifications to the existing approved rezone conditions and associated concept plan.
The Lenru Development rezone request attracted a large crowd at the Board of Commissioners hearing Tuesday, with 55 people in the Commission Chamber as the meeting got underway and at least 10 more in hallway outside.
The room also was packed on Aug. 20 when the Planning Commission held its hearing on the request and voted 5-2 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners give its approval.
Only Rodney Jones, 1520 Crystal Hills Drive, spoke in favor of the proposal on Tuesday. Jones and Philip Hammond, 1516 Bracken Ct., off Fern Hill Road, are partners in Lenru Development.
Five people served as spokespersons for the opposition.
David Ellison, an attorney representing the Triple Creek Home Owners Association, was the first to speak, and he took up the bulk of the time allotted to opponents.
Ellison focused almost immediately on the 2004 decision to rezone the 7.5 acres from A-1 (Agricultural District) to B-1 (General Business District).
Ellison argued that while the rezone in 2004 was to B-1 zoning, that zoning designation was incorrect.
|Ellison's Aerial Picture Of Development Site|
Looking South With Triple Creek On Right
Malcom Bridge Road (Left) And Lenru Road (Center)
“This is an odd place for B-1 zoning,” Ellison told the Board. “B-1 is not intended for the surrounding neighborhoods. It is not intended to be adjacent to the neighborhoods.”
B-1 zoning is designed to provide businesses that provide goods and services for the local citizens of Oconee County and surrounding areas, Ellison argued, citing the county code.
The description used in the zoning narrative and incorporated into the ordinance passed by the Board actually better fits the NSS Neighborhood Shopping and Service District classification, Ellison said.
That category was added to the code in 2006, Ellison noted, and followed the language used in the 2004 rezone of what is now the Lenru Development property.
“I would submit that you need to consider this as a straight rezone,” Ellison told the Board.
The 7.5 acres under consideration for the shopping center is part of a commercially-zoned island between Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road made up of what is now three parcels totaling 13.5 acres.
At present, all of the 13.5 acres are undeveloped.
Lenru Development owns 10.8 of those acres, and the concept plan for the rezone modification for the 7.5 acres shows a connection to the 3.3 acre parcel owned by Lenru Development just north of the 7.5 acres.
The county owns the remaining 2.7 acres.
An examination of county planning documents shows that the commercial island was created in 2003 and 2004 through two different rezoning decisions made by the Board of Commissioners.
These decisions were after Malcom Bridge Elementary School opened in 1996 and Malcom Bridge Middle School opened in 1997.
On Aug. 5, 2003, the Board rezoned 92.5 acres owned by P & A Ventures Inc., Oconee Property Holdings LLC, Dickens Farms Inc., Joe L. Harrison III and Jeff Bell from A-1 (Agricultural District) to R-2 MPD (Mixed Use Residential & Light Commercial Master Planned Development District).
The project was called Dartmouth Park in the rezone narrative, but it is now known as Triple Creek.
|Map From 2003 Rezone For Triple Creek|
Property For Shopping Center (In White) And MPD Commercial (Right)
Though the rezone ordinance lists the multiple property owners, the county tax records list P&A Ventures alone as the owner as of Sept. 2, 2003.
P&A Ventures Inc. was from Newnan, according to the Georgia Secretary of State Corporate Division records. It dissolved in 1995, according to those records.
As part of that 2003 rezone, the 3.3 acres now owned by Lenru Development and the 2.7 acres now owned by the county were designated for commercial development under the MPD classification.
At the time of the rezone, the two parcels were combined, but on Dec. 24, 2003, P&A Ventures, through a deed gift of $0, transferred the 2.7 acres to the county.
Oconee County Attorney Daniel Haygood told me in an email message on Tuesday that “My memory was that it was to be a fire station, but it didn’t wind up being in the right place for our coverage scheme.”
Village At Malcom Bridge
On Feb. 10, 2004, or just after the Triple Creek (Dartmouth Park) rezone, the Board of Commissioners rezoned the 7.5 acres south of the two commercial parcels in the MPD from A-1 to B-1.
|2004 Concept Plan The Village At Malcom Bridge (Click To Enlarge)|
That land also was owned by P&A Ventures.
The staff of the Planning Department was critical of the rezone, saying it was “against the creating of a ‘B-1' area on the zoning map at this location.”
The report said staff was working on a change in the code to create a “neighborhood commercial district” and recommended that this request for the rezone from A-1 to B-1 “be denied or that the application be tabled or withdrawn until such time as the neighborhood commercial district has been created.”
The Board ignored the recommendation and approved the rezone for what was called The Village at Malcom Bridge, showing a collection of 21 small buildings that, according to the narrative, would make up a “Neighborhood Shopping & Service Village.”
The narrative, which became part of the zoning ordinance, stated that no building "will be constructed in excess of 10,000 SF (even if two buildings were attached to become one)."
Buildout was projected to be by January of 2008, but no construction took place.
Master Plan Developments
The Triple Creek (Dartmouth Park) rezone took place when the county was approving the use of MPDs to spur residential development. The MPDs allowed for small lot size, required sewer service, and usually included a commercial component.
Beall Gonnson and Co. handled the Dartmouth Park rezone, and the narrative stated the use of the MPD classification was “not to increase density but to illustrate ingenuity and resourcefulness in land planning and to assure the provision of park and recreational facilities for the use of the occupants of the development while providing a reasonable return on investment to the developer.”
Beall Gonnson and Co. also handled the 2004 rezone of the 7.5 acres for The Village at Malcom Bridge. Ken Beall now operates his land planning business under his name alone.
Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes is the only member of the current Board of Commissioners who was on the Board in 2003 and 2004. Wilkes approved both rezones.
Melvin Davis was chairman of the Board at that time.
Exchange At Meeting
At the Board meeting on Tuesday, current Board Chair John Daniell asked Guy Herring, director of Code Enforcement and Planning for the county, to address the issue of the use of MPDs in 2003 and 2004.
To achieve the density for the Triple Creek residential development, Herring said, the county in 2003 zoned the 6 acres at the front of the development “to a commercial--a neighborhood commercial-- use.”
The remaining 7.5 acres in the commercial island was zoned to B1, Herring said.
“That strip was envisioned as a commercial area back in 2004,” according to Herring.
Of the 7.5 acres for The Village at Malcom Bridge, Herring said “the property is zoned B1. It is not zoned NSS.”
Herring said the Board could have changed the designation to NSS in 2006 when it created a new zoning map and added that category.
“Typically, a new ordinance and zoning map is adopted and zoning categories are managed in that way so that they are equivalent to the previous zone when categories change,” Herring said. “So whether it was design or by accident, we do have a B-1 zoned property in this location.”
Commissioner Horton defeated Wilkes in 2004, and he is the only member of the current Board who would have voted on that change in the zoning map. Wilkes was re-elected to the Board in 2014.
The 2018 concept plan for The Village at Malcom Bridge submitted by Dovetail Civil Design Inc., 3651 Mars Hill Road, on behalf of Lenru Development shows eight buildings and four proposed entrances.
|2018 Concept Plan The Village At Malcom Bridge (Click To Enlarge)|
At the Commission meeting on Tuesday, Herring proposed modifying significantly one condition for the rezone his staff had offered earlier and adding seven additional conditions.
Herring proposed that southernmost entrance along Lenru Road be eliminated. Earlier, the planning staff has recommended that the entrance be aligned with Harperfield Drive.
Herring also proposed that the developer “install a traffic circle/roundabout or equivalent” at the intersection of Lenru Road and Malcolm Bridge Road and at the northern entrance to the shopping center opposite the entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School.
He also proposed that sidewalks be installed along Malcom Bridge Road and Lenru Road and that crosswalks be installed to connect the shopping center to surrounding subdivisions.
Herring also proposed that no construction entrances be allowed onto the project site from Lenru Road.
Challenge Of Road Improvements
Chair Daniell told the commissioners that the county might consider putting a roundabout at other entrances to the Malcom Bridge campus in the future.
“Eventually, we want to get so all of our schools, we don’t have a deputy standing out in the roadway,” he said.
County Public Works Director Emil Beshara said, in response to Commissioner Thomas, that he had not felt it appropriate to ask for reactions from the School System, which also would have to surrender right of way, until he knew of the receptivity of the Board to the proposal.
“But off the top of my head,” Beshara said, “I assume they would be amenable to get that deputy out of the road at that location and improve functionally the operation of that intersection.”
“I know the Malcom Bridge Road-Lenru intersection is a real problem,” Thomas said. “If the traffic circle is a great solution for that then maybe that’s where we need to be.”
Beshara told the Board that he could force Lenru Development to provide the needed right of way for roundabouts only if it passed the rezone modifications with the condition Herring outlined.
The 2004 rezone did not provide for that kind of improvement, he said, so he would have no ability to require it unless the Board approves the Lenru Development modification request.
Commissioner Horton encouraged Jones to meet with residents try to find ways to reach an agreement on the shopping center proposal.
Jones said he had found the meeting he held with residents after the Planning Commission meeting to be helpful.
“I got an opportunity to listen to what some of the people--all the neighborhoods--had to say about it,” Jones said.
“To be quite honest with you,” Jones added. “I think we’ve got a group of people that are against anything that is not set up and going to be there, and no matter what I do I don’t think they are going to be happy with it. That’s just the way I feel.”
“We’re not trying to build an inexpensive product here,” Jones said. “We’re trying to build a really nice neighborhood shopping center.”
Tyler Reinagel, research and surveys manager for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, told the Board near the end of the meeting on Tuesday that the General Assembly first allowed local governments to collect a hotel/motel tax in 1975 and has modified the law many times since.
At present, there are three different authorizations for the tax, based on the rate the local government wants to use, Reinagel said.
Oconee County is grandfathered in at a 6 percent rate.
If Oconee County wants to increase that rate to 7 or 8 percent, it must adopt a resolution setting a tax rate, and the local legislative delegation must introduce and get the legislation through the General Assembly, according to Reinagel.
Such a change is important because the law restricts how the Hotel/Motel Tax is spent.
Oconee County at present must spend 43.3 percent of its revenue on tourism, conventions and trade shows and must funnel those monies through a Destination Marketing Organization.
Oconee County designates the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce as that body, but a convention and business bureau could play that role.
Another 16.7 percent of the revenue Oconee County collects can be used for facility support, including actual construction projects, Reinagel said.
The remaining 40 percent is unrestricted, and the money can go into the county’s General Fund to fund county expenses, including tourism.
In Fiscal Year 2017, the county collected $163,081 in Hotel/Motel Tax, with $65,232 of that unrestricted, according to Reinagel.
Through new legislation, the county could keep its collection at 6 percent but designate 50 percent of that revenue to the General Fund, according to Reinagel’s analysis.
In other action on Tuesday, the Board passed a revision to the county’s Utility Accommodation Ordinance to deal with changes in small cell telecommunications technology.
The Board approved Farmland Preservation disbursements of $463,615 from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds.
The expenditures are: the Rollins Farm, $125,000, 60 acres, Salem Road; Simpson Farm, $125,995, 51.1 acres, Old Farmington Road; House Farm, $125,580, 59.8 acres, Astondale Road; and McClure Farm, $87,040, 35 acres, Greensboro Highway.
In other zoning matters, the Board turned down an appeal by Brooke and Kellette Wade, 2175 Charlotte’s Walk, of a staff decision that they had to remove fence in a drainage easement.
The Board approved a special exception variance for Traci Britt, Hebron Church Road, to allow an accessory structure exceeding 1,000 square feet in a residential zoning district.
It also approved a request from SG Properties LLC to allow subdivision of 6.2 acres on Price Mill Road into two parcels.
The video below is of the meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
I attended the meeting, but Penny Mills recorded the video.
Discussion of the changes in the county’s Public Utility Accommodation Ordinance is at 3:05 in the video.
The discussion of the Lenru Development proposal begins at 13:30 in the video.
The presentation on the state’s hotel/motel tax begins at 1:30:54.