Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Oconee County Commissioners Granted Variance (And Forgiveness) To Builder Who Said He Made “Small Mistake”

***House Too Close To Street***

Keith Newberry, managing partner at Keystone Custom Homes LLC of Athens, told the Oconee County Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting last week that his draftsman made a mistake in drawing site plans for two homes he built this year in Lee Ridge Subdivision southeast of Watkinville.

One house, a 2,370 square-foot structure at 2339 Maddison Avenue, now sits more than four feet closer to the street than the county’s Unified Development Code allows, and Newberry was asking the Board of Commissioner for forgiveness.

For the second house, a 2,709 square structure at 2179 Maddison Avenue, the mistake was smaller, and the county Planning and Code Enforcement can approve occupancy of the property administratively.

In response to questions from commissioners, Newberry said the errors were found during the construction phase, and he said he wasn’t trying to hide the problem from the county until after the houses were built.

But Newberry also said he thought the problem at 2339 Maddison Avenue “was a small mistake similar to the house next door so we continued with the construction” and only came to the Board after he met with Planning and Code Enforcement staff.

The Planning and Code Enforcement staff said it inspected the site on October 19 of this year after construction was complete. A For Sale sign was in front of the house, the staff report said.

In the end, the Board of Commissioners gave Newberry his forgiveness in the form a special exemption, which it approved unanimously.

Lee Ridge Subdivision

Lee Ridge subdivision consists of 35 lots, all fronting on Maddison Avenue, which runs north off Flat Rock Road.

Staff Pictures: 2339, Foreground, 2709, Left, In Background

Flat Rock Road runs east from SR15 (Greensboro Highway) southeast of Watkinsville in a largely agricultural part of the county.

The subdivision was zoned from agricultural to residential use in 2005, during a period of rapid residential rezoning and development in the county.

Keystone Custom Homes bought the property at 2339 Maddison Avenue from Oconee Ventures II LLC, a Jeff Bell company with a Watkinsville Post Office Box address, in September of 2017, according to county tax records.

Keystone bought other propertes from Oconee Ventures II around that same time.

Bell had acquired the property and others in the subdivision from Land Star Development, a dissolved company formerly based in Winder, in 2009.

At present, Keystone Ventures owns 18 lots in Lee Ridge. Completed houses are on the other 17 lots, according to the tax records.

Nature Of Mistake

Newberry, in his comments before the Board at its meeting on Dec. 4, blamed his draftsman for the mistake.

Click Plat For Two Lots To Enlarge

He explained the problem this way:

“When our draftsman created the site plan for the house, he did a couple at the same time, and it wasn’t just this house, it was also the neighboring home at 2179, where he, I don’t work on CAD, but I understands it's layered, and he had an additional layer clicked.

“So while he was moving to make the metes and bounds on the property lines and also the setbacks he drug the setback, I believe, too far to the street while moving something else.”

Newberry also blamed a cul-de-sac for the error.

The two properties are near a bubble in the road, but not a true cul-de-sac, and Newberry said that made it harder to recognize the error in the plans.

Not Hiding Mistake

“We could have dropped that house 300 feet from the road if we needed to,” Newberry said. “It was truly a mistake.”

The house sits on a lot just larger than 1 acre.

The Unified Development Code requires a 30 foot setback from the right of way for the street, a 15 foot setback from the side of the lot, and a 40 foot setback from the rear of the lot.

“It wasn’t in any way a ‘Hey let’s build it and go ask for forgiveness',” Newberry said in response to a question from Commissioner Chuck Horton.

“It was a ‘Wow, are you serious? Do you think we are encroached?’ and then ‘Would you guys mind coming out with your surveying equipment and confirming that because this is what we think we’ve got at this point?’.

“And that led us to be here tonight,” Newberry said.

Sought Help

Newberry said he asked Williams and Associates (now W&A Engineering), 2470 Daniells Bridge Road, to explore and then confirm the problem.

In response to a question from Commission Chair John Daniells, Newberry said that his draftsman drew the site plans and the surveyor put pins in the ground based on the mistake by the draftsman.

“We thought it was a small mistake similar to the house next door so we continued with the construction,” Newberry said.

“And after we went through the process with Gabriel (Quintas, assistant director of Planning and Code Enforcement), we learned that we were a little bit too far so we would need to come get a variance.”

The Board then voted to grant that variance.


The video below is of the Dec. 4 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

The discussion of the Keystone request is at 19:13 in the video.

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