Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Commercial Subdivision On SR 316 At Mars Hill Road Will Be Back Before Oconee County Commissioners For Variance Request

***Plans Changed After Initial Rezone***

When, in July of 2016, Scott Boswell wanted to move his electrical and communications supply store from Athens to nearly 30 acres at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and SR 316, he needed to have the land rezoned from its agricultural to a highway business classification.

As a part of the rezone application, Boswell submitted a concept plan showing a 9,600 square foot building at the rear of the wooded property, near McNutt Creek.

The building was to be connected to Mars Hill Road by a 24-foot-wide asphalt access drive through undeveloped land.

The Board of Commissioners approved the rezone and set as a condition that the sides of the building should be a minimum of 25 percent brick, stone or stucco.

When Boswell came before the county’s Development Review Committee with his actual development plans in November of 2017, however, he showed a very different location for that building.

The 9,600 square foot building would sit just back from SR 316, Boswell’s plans said.

The Development Review Committee approved those plans, setting in place a series of negotiations about the now rather large development planned for the nearly 30 acres.

Those negotiations are scheduled to continue on March 5, when Boswell will be back before the Board of Commissioners seeking a variance in the county’s buffer requirements for the 19-lot commercial subdivision he plans to build on that site.

Original Plans

When Boswell came before the Board of Commissioners in July of 2016, he didn’t own the land on which he now plans to build his shopping center. (Click on the plans below to enlarge them.)

Concept Plan 2016

At that time, it was owned by Tew Family Investments LLC of Hartwell.

Boswell bought the land in August of 2018 for $837,340, according to county tax records. The county flagged the purchase as of “questionable fair market value.” The acreage had been sold in 2004 for $1,046,675.

In the narrative for the 2016 rezone, Boswell said the change from Agricultural to Business zoning would allow for the construction of a commercial building serving as an electric supply company.

“Land disturbance will only occur as needed to build the structure, storm water pond and infrastructure,” the narrative stated. “The proposed site layout will have much of the site hidden from view from the neighboring properties by utilizing undisturbed natural wooded areas.”

DRC Review

When Boswell, through his agents, submitted plans in 2017 for construction of that single building, he said he would need to disturb 13.1 acres, all at the front of the property along SR 316.

The building, as shown on the plans, was no longer to be at the rear of the property.

Stamped Plans 2018

Instead, it was to be located at the front, near the intersection of SR 316 and Mars Hill Road.

Boswell’s property doesn’t actually reach to Mars Hill Road, but the plans showed a private road across land owned by Jeffery Lee Satterfield, 4671 Mars Hill Road, leading to the building Boswell proposed to build.

The Development Review Committee approved the Preliminary Site Plan on Nov. 17, 2017.

On March 3, 2018, Sandy Weiner, then acting director of the Planning and Code Enforcement Department, approved the actual Site Development Plans.

Permits Issued

Those stamped plans, which detail how the land is to be cleared for construction, are the equivalent of a soil erosion permit, allowing the developer to move forward with clearance of the land.

Boswell did clear the land and then appeared before the Planning and Code Enforcement Department on May 4, 2018, for a permit to build his supply store.

The application was for a 12,000 square foot building “with offices, sales area and warehousing.” Estimated cost was $320,000.

External walls were going to be wood and masonry, according to the application.

Russ Hanson in Code Enforcement approved the permit that same day.

The building actually constructed, according to photographs on the county’s site, has a front that is totally brick. At least one of the sides is partially brick.

The tax records list the building as 9,600 square feet in size.

BOC Decision

In late 2018, Boswell took steps to modify his 2016 rezone to allow him to develop his 30 acres into a commercial subdivision, or shopping center.

He submitted plans showing his existing supply store on the first of 19 lots. Lots 2 through 8 surrounded his existing building.

Concept Plan 2019

The Planning and Code Enforcement Department staff recommended that Boswell be required to use brick, stone or stucco to cover the sides of the buildings on all of the 18 unbuilt lots and be prohibited from using metal siding.

Boswell told the Planning Commission on Jan. 22 that he wanted to reduce the requirement that the buildings have brick, stone or stucco on all four sides.

He said his existing building had brick on the front and that the other sides were 25 percent brick, and he wanted the same for the remaining buildings.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezone request, but it stuck with the staff recommendation on siding.

When the issue came before the Board of Commissioners on Feb. 5, Boswell said that requirement would make construction in the subdivision too expensive.

The Board decided that Boswell should be required to have non-metal siding on all four sides of the seven buildings closest to SR 316 and that the remaining buildings would need to be only 25 percent brick, stone or stucco.

Variance Request

Boswell cannot build his shopping center as shown on his most recent concept plan unless the Board of Commissioners grants him a variance from the regulations of the county’s Unified Development Code.

A 50-foot buffer is required for commercial property adjacent to the Satterfield property, which is zoned for agriculture and contains a single home.

The narrative for the variance request states this “This buffer requirement will significantly reduce the (Boswell) property's usable space for development.”

Boswell is proposing “to maintain a 15-foot natural buffer and install a 6-foot opaque privacy fence along the east property line.”

A 50-foot buffer would decrease the buildable area of the lots adjoining the Satterfield property by an average of 19 percent of the total proposed lot area, according to the narrative.

The proposed 15-foot natural buffer will only decrease the buildable area by an average of 5 percent of the total proposed lot area, the narrative states.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider that request at its meeting on March 5.

Intersection With SR 316

Access to the proposed shopping center will be from Mars Hill Road, via the private road across the Satterfield property.

Boswell Supply 2/17/2019

Traffic traveling toward Athens along SR 316 will exit SR 316 at Mars Hill Road and turn immediately into the shopping center.

Traffic leaving the shopping center will exit onto Mars Hill Road and then turn right toward Athens.

Mars Hill Road does not cross SR 316, so westbound traffic will be able to access the shopping center only by turning off SR 316 at U.S. 78 and then traveling west along Mars Hill Road.

The staff report for the 2019 rezone noted that the “modifications/upgrades to the intersection of Mars Hill Road and GA-SR 316 were approved by GDOT as part of the approved site development plans for Boswell Electrical and Communications Supply.

“However, GDOT has indicated that a new commercial driveway permit will be required for the current request,” the report states.

Members of the Planning Commission raised concerns about the safety of that intersection. The topic did not come up at the Board of Commissioners meeting.

Modifications to the intersection, based on the original rezone, are underway.

Discrepancy Not Discussed

Neither the issues of access to the shopping center nor the discrepancy between the original plans approved by the Board in 2016 and the plans approved by the Development Review Committee came up at the Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 22 or at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 5.

Minutes of the DRC meeting on Nov. 17, 2017, do not indicate that the changes were discussed at that gathering. (I did not attend the meeting and do not have a video of the actual discussion.)

I asked Guy Herring, director of the Planning and Code Enforcement Department, about the discrepancy between the concept plan approved by the Board of Commissioners in 2016 and the Preliminary Site Plan approved by the DRC in 2017.

Herring told me in an email message on Feb. 12 that the “This development was permitted prior to my arrival in OC (Oconee County) so I cannot speak as the reason for approval.”

The Board of Commissioners hired Herring in April of 2018, which was after the Development Review Committee review, after approval of the plans, and after the issuance of the land disturbance permit. The county issued the building permit shortly after Herring arrived.

The Development Review Committee consists of representatives of departments in the county impacted by development, including Planning and Code Enforcement, Water Resources, Fire, and Public Works.

Occupancy Permits

The county issued a Temporary Occupancy Permit for Boswell’s supply story on Nov. 26, 2018.

The permit was to be for 30 days.

Gaby Bryan, code enforcement officer, listed 14 things that Boswell needed to address before the permit could be made permanent.

Included were paving of the parking lot, connection of sewer lines, and a number of landscaping details.

“Probably will be March time frame to completely get everything grassed and growing due to rain,” someone wrote at the bottom of a note Bryan wrote on Nov. 21.

On Feb. 14, Bryan sent a note to Herring asking if Boswell would be able to obtain another 30 or 60 day temporary occupancy permit.

Herring wrote back that same day saying he would be “good with a 30 day extension” of the temporary certificate of occupancy.

Future Plans

In his comments before the Planning Commission, Boswell said he “took a leap of faith to move my business of many years in Athens to this property.”

He said it was “a real estate decision as well as a business decision.” He called his decision an “expensive adventure” because of the investment in sewer and roads for the property.

Boswell said he has changed his business name to simply Boswell Supply where he plans to “sell everything we can possibly sell.”

He mentioned a Kubota dealership, a Tractor Supply Company store, and Burger King as possible tenants, based on discussions he has had.

He said he would sell lots or build and lease, and that he would consider combining lots to satisfy customer needs.

He also said he would like to purchase the Satterfield property and develop it commercially as well. That property is another 38 acres.


Anonymous said...

While some are praising the BOC they repeatedly allow inferior buildings in developments. Hey a good ‘ole boy approaches the BOC and they are ready to allow anything. You can have codes, guidelines along with staff and committees trying to have a great community; however, it is all lost if the BOC will not support the direction of the people.

Zippity said...

Typical, the developer says one thing and does something totally different. Boswell pays lip service to the rules and then does what he wants. The buffers should stand as they are supposed to be. He knew the requirements when he made his plans. He cannot say not "that it is too expensive" to adhere to the requirements. Come BOC, develop some spine.