Oconee County commissioners tomorrow (Tuesday) will take up a request to modify zoning for a shopping center on land between Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road just south of the Malcom Bridge Middle School.
The 7.5 acre tract has been zoned for commercial use since 2004 but has not been developed and is surrounded by residential and school properties.
The current owner, Lenru Development LLC, is seeking to modify the plans approved for the development in 2004 with the goal of building a shopping center primarily for restaurants and retail outlets but also for other commercial tenants.
Thirteen citizens from a crowded room of opponents spoke against the proposal at the Planning Commission meeting last month, but that body voted 5 to 2 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners approve the requested zoning modifications.
Six people at that same meeting spoke against a request by Benson’s Old Home Kitchens LLC for a reduction in the required buffer between heavy industrial and residential uses at its plant in Bogart. The Planning Commission voted 6 to 0 to recommend denial to the Bogart City Council.
Benson’s has withdrawn its requests, and the item has been removed from the Bogart City Council agenda for its Sept. 10 meeting.
The agenda for the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville, contains a presentation by state officials on the state’s Hotel/Motel Tax and its use for creation for a Convention Visitors Bureau as well as additional zoning requests.
Lenru Development, a partnership involving Rodney Jones, 1520 Crystal Hills Drive, and Philip Hammond, 1516 Bracken Ct., off Fern Hill Road, is asking that it be allowed to change the building configuration for the commercial strip development.
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The zoning ordinance passed in 2004 specified that the shopping center includes 21 small buildings averaging 3,585 square feet in size. The buildings could have been two stories tall.
Lenru Development is proposing that the center includes eight larger buildings ranging in size from less than 4,000 square feet to about 17,000 square feet and be a single story high.
In its narrative for the rezone request, Lenru Development states:
“The proposed development will primarily include restaurant and retail tenants, but may also include professional offices, physician offices, dry cleaners, hair salons, banks, art galleries, performance studios, food markets, bakeries, locksmiths, photographers and other uses deemed appropriate under B-1 zoning.”
At present, the land is not in the designated area where alcohol licenses can be issued.
Jones told the Planning Commission that the development will have a “residential flair” to fit into the surrounding neighborhoods as well as with Malcolm Bridge Elementary School and Malcom Bridge Middle School.
Residents from the nearby Tripple Creek, Harperfield and Fern Hill subdivisions raised a number of objections to the plans, with many focusing on traffic issues.
The plans submitted by Lenru Development show two entrances off Malcom Bridge Road, one of them opposite Fern Hill Road and the other opposite the entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School.
The plans also show two entrances off Lenru Road, one of them opposite Arlington Place and another opposite Harperfield Drive.
Fern Hill Road, Arlington Place and Harperfield Drive are all residential streets.
The entrance to the shopping center opposite Harperfield Drive does not line up with Harperfield Drive itself, and the Planning Commission approved as a condition for the rezone that the entrance be moved to line up with Harperfield Drive.
The submitted concept plan also shows a driveway link to 3.3 acres north of the proposed shopping center that also is owned by Lenru Development but is not included as part of the rezone request.
For many of those who spoke at the Aug. 20 Planning Commission meeting, the idea of commercial development in their neighborhood was unacceptable.
Planning Commission Chair Bill Yarbrough told them after they made their presentations that the “previous rezone is not going away” and that the owner has a right to develop the property consistent with existing B-1 (Business) classification.
The 3.3 acres north of the 7.5 acre tract also is designated for commercial development, as is an additional 2.7 acres north of that.
The 3.3 acres and 2.7 acres are the designated commercial area for Triple Creek subdivision, a master plan development community.
The county, under then Commission Chair Melvin Davis, approved numerous master plan developments around the county in the early 2000s as a way of spurring residential development.
The rezones included commercial components as part of the residential development.
Many of those master plan developments did not survive the economic downfall at the end of the last decade and were not built.
Lenru Development obtained the 7.5 acres as well as the 3.3 acres from a bank after a foreclosure, county tax records show, and the county obtained the 2.7 acre tract as a gift deed.
All three properties once had been owned by P&A Ventures Inc., according to county tax records. The company, dissolved in 1995, was from Newnan, according to the Georgia Secretary of State Corporate Division records.
The master plan developments allowed homes to be built on small lots that could not sustain a septic system, requiring county sewer service.
The county did not upgrade its treatment capability to meet the demand that the master plan developments required, only opening its expanded Calls Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant last month.
The staff review of the Lenru Development rezone request states that the Oconee County Water Resources Department has indicated that sewer “transmission capacity for the proposed development is not currently available.”
The estimated sewer demand for full build-out is 54,172 gallons per day, according to the report, and the Planning Commission approved the condition that “no building permits shall be issued without prior approval of the Oconee County Water Resources Department.”
Benson’s asked the Planning Commission to recommend a variance for relief from the Bogart Zoning Code that requires a 100 foot buffer between heavy industrial and single-family residential uses and a 50 foot buffer between heavy industrial and multi-family residential uses.
Under an agreement between Bogart and the county, the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department reviews zoning request for Bogart and the county Planning Commission makes recommendations to the Bogart City Council.
According to the staff report, Benson’s created a parking lot to be used while a new building was under construction and intended to pave the parking lot and continue to use it for employee parking.
The staff report stated that residents of neighboring properties complained about the noise, lighting, and lack of buffer, and those who spoke at the Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 20 echoed those complaints.
The staff report states that “this request does not meet the necessary conditions to grant a variance,” and the Planning Commission accepted that conclusion.
Bogart City Clerk Diane Craft told me on Friday in an email that Benson's withdrew its request two days earlier, on Aug. 29.
Other Agenda Items
The agenda for the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday includes three other zoning issues, including a request from a landowner on Price Mill Road to remove a portion of a scenic preservation overlay on part of a 6.2 acre tract so the parcel can be divided into two lots.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs is to make a presentation on the state’s Hotel/Motel Tax.
The county is considering using revenue from the Hotel/Motel Tax to fund a Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Board also will give second reading and take action on an amendment to the county’s Utility Accommodation Ordinance to enable the county to regulate small cell telecommunications technology.
The video below is of the Aug. 20 meeting of the Planning Commission.
I did attend the meeting, but Penny Mills recorded this video.
The discussion of the Lenru Development request is at 3:44 in the video.
The discussion of the Benson’s request is at 1:25:56 in the video.