Tony Townley is asking the county to allow him to carve out and rezone 11.1 acres that are part of the Plant Sciences Farm on Snows Mill Road he purchased from the University of Georgia in 2014 so he can turn the property into commercial use.
Townley is proposing to operate what he is calling the Eastville Car Museum to display classic, vintage, and historical automobiles and equipment in buildings already on the property, including the University of Georgia’s Red Barn, which Townley purchased and moved to the site.
If approved by the county, the property, currently surrounded by agricultural land, most of it owned by Townley, will be used as a public attraction, an intermittent event space, and a possible location for local and community gatherings, according to the rezone request.
Oconee county planning staff has concluded that the proposed use is not compatible with the agricultural and rural character of the surrounding area, but the staff nonetheless recommended approval of the rezone request.
The rezone request will be heard by the Oconee County Planning Commmission, meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday in the Courthouse in Watkinsville. The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to make its final decision on Oct. 2.
The Planning Commission also will consider on Monday a request by the owners of Pinelake Campground on High Shoals Road for permission to eliminate a requirement of a wall along SR 186 that the Board of Commissioners set as part of a 2017 rezone for the property.
Museum Southern Tract
The proposal by Townley Family Partnership LLLP before the county is to rezone 7.2 acres on the southwest corner of Snows Mill Road and Cole Spring Road and 3.9 acres on the northwest corner of that intersection from agricultural use to commercial use.
|North And South Parcels In Red|
On the southern tract, the historic Red Barn, moved from Milledge Avenue, will be used for a “muscle car and vintage sign” museum, according to the staff report.
Another barn on the southern property will be used for a “1950s-1960s classic car museum and storage space,” the report states.
A third smaller barn will be used for a “tractor and vintage sign museum.”
A “Sinclair” Replica Vintage Gas Station will be used for storage space, and a “Shell Station Replica Gas Station" will be a gift shop and museum lounge.
A metal barn is labeled as “main showroom and display for museum,” and two additional metal barns are labeled for storage.
A single-story commercial building on the northern tract is to be used for “storage space and an administrative office for various businesses” owned by Townley, according to the staff report.
A barn on the northern tract will be used for a “pre-war museum.”
Two additional barns and two sheds will be used for storage space, according to the staff report on the rezone.
The 3.9 acre northern tract will be carved from the 407 acre tract of which it is now a part.
According to the rezone narrative, the goal of the project is to provide “the citizens of Oconee County and the surrounding counties with an area that showcases the history and the heritage of American engineering through the lens of classic, vintage, and historical automobiles and equipment.”
Carter Engineering Consultants, 3651 Mars Hill Road, is representing Townley Family Partnership LLLP in the rezone.
Office Institutional Professional Zone
Townley Family Partnership LLLP officially is asking the county to rezone the 11.1 acres from A-1(Agricultural District) to OIP (Office Institutional Professional District).
OIP is one of six commercial zoning districts specified in the county’s Unified Development Code, which says the “intent of the OIP District to provide an area for business and professional offices as well as for social, fraternal, political, civic and community organizations.”
Museums are one of the allowed uses in OIP districts, but so are hospitals, nursing homes, convalescent centers, medical offices, banks, dry cleaners, automobile commercial parking lots and garages, cafeterias, coffee shops, family planning centers, and private schools, among other things.
Once a property is rezoned, it can be used for other purposes allowed in the zoning category without necessarily going back to the Board of Commissioners for approval.
The rezone also sets precedent for other rezones of a similar type in the same area.
Townley is one of the founders of Zaxby’s and grew up on land near the proposed museum site.
Townley Family Partnership owns 51 properties in the county, according to county tax records, and much of that acreage is around the site for the proposed museum.
Frazer Creek Investment LLC, based at 1280 Snows Mill Road, the address of the northern property in the rezone request, owns another 40 properties, according to county tax records.
The staff report notes that the site for the proposed museum “contains an administrative office that is not in compliance” with the Unified Development Code.
“Staff notes that an occupational tax application for this use was denied on 02/04/2016 for the reason that such use is not allowed in the A-1 zoning district,” the report states.
The staff report notes that the “The existing uses surrounding the subject area are chiefly agricultural.”
|Photo Submitted With Rezone|
“In the broader vicinity,” the report notes, “several poultry houses are present southwest of the site along Snows Mill Road, and Rocky Branch Elementary School and North Oconee High School are located along Georgia Highway 53 northeast of the site.”
“Staff believes that the current request is not compatible with the existing uses and zoning of the surrounding area,” the report states.
“Furthermore, staff holds that the present request is not compatible with the predominant agricultural character of the surrounding area and is more appropriate in areas oriented toward higher intensity commercial uses where County services are more widely available,” the report states.
“Furthermore, the request to rezone to OIP diverges considerably from the established land use patterns of the surrounding area,” according to the report.
The county has struggled in recent years with how to handle business activities on agricultural land.
Commissioners have approved a number of requests to rezone parts of agricultural land so buildings on the sites can be used for wedding and other types of rentals.
The goal has been to provide supplemental revenue sources for area farmers.
The planning staff report states that “staff is currently studying the possibility of creating a new zoning district that would be compatible with the rural and agricultural character of the surrounding area and would accommodate ‘agri-tourism’ uses similar to the proposed museum.”
If the Board of Commissioners adopted such a zoning district in the future, the report states, the Board would be able to initiate a rezone of the Townley property to the new zoning district “to address the incompatibility of the requested zoning district with the surrounding properties.”
Carter Engineering has been aggressive in promoting the Townley proposal, inviting members of the Planning Commission to tour the facility before Monday night’s meeting.
“This is a unique project for our County and one advantage is that the barns that will house the museum are already in place so that you will be able to see first hand what you will be considering on the 17th,” Carter Engineering wrote it is email message to Commission members.
The Oconee Enterprise ran a very positive story on the rezone request in the Sept. 6 edition of the paper.
The story, with two large pictures, took up more than half of the front page of the paper and then jumped inside the paper, where four additional pictures from Townley’s vehicle collection were presented.
The paper, in that same edition, included an editorial praising Townley and calling for inclusion of an agribusiness category in the Unified Development Code.
Pinelake Campground LLC, 5630 High Shoals Road at Adams Road, is asking the county to modify conditions for a Special Use for expansion of the campground set by the Board of Commissioners in May of 2017.
The Board required Pinelake to construct a six-foot decorative masonry wall along SR186 right-of way abutting the Pinelake property to the north.
The staff report noted that the owner is in the process of constructing a landscaped, earthen berm, “which will serve as the perimeter buffer (in lieu of the decorative masonry wall) along the northern property line.”
The staff recommends approval of the request, stating that “The landscaped six-foot berm that is proposed along the GA Highway 186 right-of-line achieves the same buffering effect that a six-foot decorative masonry wall would provide.”