Sunday, February 24, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Criticize House Bill 302 At Town Hall Meeting, Discuss Plans For Internet

***Pickleball Also A Topic***

Oconee County commissioners used the Town Hall meeting on Tuesday night to vent their frustration with proposed House Bill 302, which would prohibit them for imposing design standards on one and two-family residential properties as part of zoning.

Commission Chair John Daniell said the bill “will be a serious impact” on the county’s ability to make the recently adopted county Comprehensive Plan “a reality.”

Commissioners Chuck Horton, Mark Saxon and Mark Thomas also criticized the bill as an attempt to circumvent home rule and thwart the concerns of citizens of the county.

Horton asked people in the audience to contact the county’s two representatives in the Georgia House stating their opposition to House Bill 302 in hopes of defeating it.

About 75 citizens turned out for the Town Hall meeting, held at Oconee Veterans Park, and voiced concerns about a variety of issues.

Dominant among those raised were problems with Internet service in the county and a desire for more pickleball courts at the county’s parks.

Commission Chair Daniell told the audience the county’s is considering investing in infrastructure to improve Internet service but isn’t likely to add new pickleball courts in the near future.

The commissioners will have another chance at their agenda-setting meeting on Tuesday night to publicly voice their opposition to House Bill 302. They are scheduled to consider a two-page resolution criticizing the legislation.

Internet Dominant

The turnout at the Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday contrasted with that at the last Town Hall meeting in October, when only 20 people attended.

McCoy On Heritage Park And Internet

Most of those present Tuesday seemed to be there to voice concerns about the Internet, and the topic was raised by the second speaker from the audience and by at least seven other people who followed.

Amanda McCoy, 1881 Old Salem Road, said she finds it difficult to conduct her horse business in the south of the county near Farmington because of the poor service she has.

Commission Chair Daniell told her that the county has looked at Columbia County north of Augusta, which, he said, is doing some public and private partnerships to address the problem there.

“We’re trying to learn from other counties that have done stuff,” Daniell said. “We’re trying to figure out now what our options are as a county and how deeply do we want to get into it.”

Nature Of Investment

Daniell said the county continues to encourage the current service providers to make additional investments.

“Hopefully in the next 60 days or so we’ll have a good idea what our options are and we can kind of present it to you,” Daniell said.

“How far are you willing to go?” Daniell asked. “Does the county need to provide Internet, or do we just need to help provide some of the infrastructure costs to encourage folks to come in?

“There’s a lot of models out there,” Daniell said. “We hear everybody talking" about service problems, "and we all experience it ourselves.”

County Administrator Justin Kirouac, who is handling the county initiative on the Internet, was seated with the commissioners at the table at the front of the room.

Kirouac said he is “hoping within two months we have a real clear direction where we’re going to go with it that will ultimately be successful in terms of what kind of infrastructure investments we can make on the front end that will really bring that final mile of connectivity.”


Not everyone in the audience knew what pickleball was when Helen Wenner, 2941 Flatrock Road, thanked the county for providing three indoor courts at Herman C. Michael Park, across Hog Mountain Road from Veterans Park.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles to hit a polymer ball over a net. It can be played indoors or outdoors.

Wenner asked the county to add outdoor courts at Herman C. Michael and provide three, not just two, courts at Oconee Veterans Park when the Herman C. Michael courts become unavailable to accommodate summer day camp at that facility.

“It’s a sport that’s growing,” Wenner said. “It’s not a fad.”

She invited all of the commissioners to come out and play the sport.

Fees Questioned

Wenner also questioned the fairness of charging out-of-county residents $10 to participate in the sport. She said Athens-Clarke County does not charge Oconee County residents to play on courts there.

“You’re probably not going to see a change in that for a very long time,” Daniell said. “You kind of just highlighted our limited capacity for the amount of uses that we have.

“Parks are maintained for activities like that out of tax dollars,” he continued. “It is something we can look at going forward.”

Daniell said it is very expensive to fix the existing youth tennis courts at Herman C. Michael and the county is exploring what can be done.

He said the county might be able to create courts that could be used for tennis and for pickleball.

Transition to HB 302

Wenner ended her comments by asking Daniell if he would come out on Wednesday morning to play pickleball.

Daniell, Horton, Saxon 2/19/2019

Daniell used that as a transition to House Bill 302.

He said he would be in Atlanta instead to attend a meeting of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, which was to begin deliberations on the Bill.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee of the House recommended passage of HB 302 in a 6 to 5 vote and sent it to the Rules Committee.

Leigh Goff, the administrative assistant to the Committee, told me in an email message on Friday that no formal record of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee vote has been taken and actual votes will never be recorded.

Daniell and Horton did attend that meeting but did not get a chance to speak.

Next Step

The Rules Committee of the House is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. tomorrow (Monday), but the agenda available online gives no indication of what it will discuss.

The Rules Committee decides which bills move forward to the full House for consideration.

On Friday, Sen. John Wilkinson of Taccoa introduced Senate Bill 172, which is identical to House Bill 302. Wilkinson is chair of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs committee, but Senate Bill 172 has not yet been assigned to any committee.

The proposed legislation, which is being championed by the building industry, states that “No county or municipal corporation shall adopt or enforce any ordinance or regulation relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings.”

The bill lists the “building design" elements of one or two-family dwellings that cannot be regulated by local governments, and these include color, type of cladding, styles of roof structure, location of windows and doors, including garage doors, and the types of foundations.

Home Rule Issue

Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes missed the Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, but the remaining four commissioners left little doubt on their opposition.

“That House bill is going to severely limit the ability of counties, in their zoning, to control exterior cladding, roof structures,” Daniell said.

Typically these stipulations are included in the conditions that the Commission places at the time land is rezoned, “and that will be illegal to do if this House bill comes through,” Daniell said.

“I would say in my years this is probably one of the most far reaching attempts by the state government to get into local issues,” Horton said.

“Citizens are coming and asking their elected officials locally to consider their concerns,” Horton said, “and, in my opinion, this legislation will take that away.”

Contact Legislators

Horton told those in the audience to “Contact your legislators, because this is far reaching. It’s not just about some sliding or slab or basement. This is how far are you going to go to get into local concerns. It’s that critical.”

Oconee County is represented in the House by Houston Gaines in the 117th House District and Marcus Wiedower in the 119th House District. They have not taken a stand on House Bill 302.

“As a community we live by the home rule,” Saxon said. “We want to stay with the home rule. You want to develop our community the way we think is right for the community with you all’s input and our input.”

“You are going to have people that will come in and do things that are financially motivated that may not be the best things for the county,” Thomas said. “So that’s where the home rule comes in. We try to do stuff that’s really a better fit for our community.”

Other Topics

Vicki Soutar, chair of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network Oconee Waters Committee, began the meeting on Tuesday by thanking the county for decommissioning the sewer line along Rocky Branch Road and for other activities to protect streams in the county.

Soutar Praises County For Water Policies

McCoy and Wenner both called for more efforts to use the pavilion at Heritage Park for activities involving horses.

Dan Magee, 2210 Loch Lomond Circle, just outside Watkinsville, criticized the Commission for its recent rezone of property at SR 316 and Mars Hill Road for a shopping center.

Citizens asked about Watkinsville sidewalks, praised the planting of trees on Mars Hill Road, and asked for improvements to the intersection of Union Church Road and Hog Mountain Road.

In response to a question, Daniell said he expects the state soon to issue a call for proposals for design work of the flyover of the Oconee Connector at SR 316.

Tommy Malcom, 2470 Simonton Bridge Road, asked the county to purchase more park land.

Flynn Warren, 1081 Lane Creek Circle in the west of the county, asked about plans in Walton County for a mining operation in eastern Walton County at Jones Woods Road and SR 186.

Commissioner Thomas said he had not talked to Walton County officials but knew of concern of people in that area. He said the mining is of clay for bricks.

Resolution On Tuesday

The Board of Commissioners will have a chance on Tuesday to make it clear to Gaines and Wiedower as well as to Sen. Bill Cowsert how they feel about the House and Senate bills and what they want them to do as a consequence.

The actual language of the resolution on the agenda states: “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners that this governing body voices its opposition to HB 302, Preemption of Local Building Design Standards.

“Be it further resolved that a copy of this Resolution be delivered to each member of the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate representing Oconee County, and made available for distribution to the public and the press.”

The City Council of Watkinsville on Wednesday also passed a resolution opposing House Bill 302. The City Council of North High School did the same on Feb. 18.

Bishop Mayor Johnny Pritchett told me in an email message on Friday that the Bishop City Council has not taken up the Bill but that he personally is opposed.

Bogart Mayor Terri Glenn told me in an email message this (Sunday) morning that the Bogart Council has the same resolution as that to be considered by the Board of Commissioners on its March 4 agenda and that she is “encouraging Council members to call our legislators and let them know we are opposed to the bill and are planning on voting on the resolution next week.”

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.


The video below is of the entire Town Hall meeting.

Soutar spoke at 1:05.

McCoy asked the first of many questions on the Internet at 10:16.

Wenner began the discussion about pickleball at 15:48.

Daniell brought up House Bill 302 at 26:30.

The Internet came again up at several points as the meeting progressed.


Zippity said...

Gratifying that so many citizens turned out for the Town Hall. Hope the Commissioners prevail in their opposition to HR 302. When a group gets an opinion unfavorable to their business, they pay their lobbyists who find a sympathetic politician and if that politician has enough clout, you can forget about local democracy. I hope our representatives will listen to their voters and not vote for this bill if it gets out of the rules committee. Interesting that they don't have to record a vote. Guess they are not proud of what they do.

Anonymous said...

I can't even imagine HB 302 being proposed. Whoever had that brainchild should be ashamed and the bill should be defeated overwhelmingly. I'm sure those representing Oconee County don't have to be told how we feel. Now do the right thing.