The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night approved a 32-acre commercial rezone request for the northwest the corner of U.S. 78 and Mars Hill Road and a 1.4 acre commercial request on the eastern side of Epps Bridge Parkway at Pine Ridge Court.
The Commission granted in a 3 to 1 vote the rezone request of Butts County developer Bill Jones, who says he will build a JP convenience store and gas station with 20 fueling positions and a Burger King at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78 in the first phase of development.
The Commission turned down Jones’ request to be allowed to put a car dealership on the property as an alternative to the submitted plans.
The Board voted unanimously to approve the request of Danny White of Athens to rezone 1.4 acres on Epps Bridge Parkway at Pine Ridge Court from a two-family residential classification to a general business district.
White is proposing to tear down three duplexes on the site and build a two-story financial center with commercial banking operations and associated office space.
New Car Dealership
The Planning Commission recommended denial, in a 7 to 3 vote, of Jones’ request for the rezone on the grounds that it was not compatible with the county’s land use map.
Planning Commission members were particularly concerned that Bill Jones, who spoke at the Planning Commission meeting, opposed restrictions on how land could be developed once it was rezoned for business use.
Steven Rowland, with Rowland Engineering of Macon, represented Jones at the hearing before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday and asked the commissioners to remove the items related to new car dealers from the list of prohibited uses for the property that the county staff had recommended.
Burt Jones, one of the principals of the company and a state Senator from Jackson in Butts County, followed Rowland with the same request. Burt Jones is a son of Bill Jones.
Burt Jones said the concept plan showing the grocery store was only something his company had produced to meet the requirements of the planning process.
The company operates new car dealerships in Jackson and Madison, Burt Jones said, and it wants the option of putting a new car dealership on the 32 acres should the market dictate.
Three people spoke in favor of the development during the public hearing on the rezone request on Tuesday.
Linda Carol Porterfield, 1020 Chestnut Glen, off Daniells Bridge Road, said the location is ideal for restaurants and groceries.
Porterfield is a realtor and a member of the county’ Industrial Development Authority.
Ken Beall, president of Beall and Company, a land planning firm located at 3651 Mars Hill Road, near the proposed shopping center, said a “grocery store would do wonders for the area.”
James Hunter, who said he grew up in that part of the county, told the Commission no one in the area is opposed to the development. Hunter said he and his family own acreage across U.S. 78 from the Jones property.
Dennis Norton, 1121 Liberty Lane, across U.S. 78 and west of the proposed development, was the sole person to speak against the rezone. Norton was the sole speaker against the project at the Planning Commission meeting as well.
Norton said he is a registered architect and planner who moved to Oconee County to avoid the development of Gwinnett County and suburban Atlanta.
Norton focused his comments on the county’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan and said that he disagreed with the county staff conclusion that the proposed development is consistent with the Technology Gateway Area designation of the county’s land use plan.
“The future of the Highway 78 corridor lies solely on your decision tonight,” Norton told the commissioners. “I know there is the temptation to voting for progress. We ran into that in Gwinnett all the time. And increased tax revenue. Oh, yea, that’s the magic word.”
“I plead with you to search deeply inside and base you vote on enabling the vision that so many people have worked very hard on,” Norton said. “A vision that is the blueprint for the future, that everyone in this county can be proud of, and one where commercial ventures work in concert with farms and residences.”
Commissioner Chuck Horton asked Burt Jones once the public hearing had been closed to elaborate on the possibility of a grocery store being the big box shown in the shopping center’s concept plan.
“There have been groups that approached the Crowes and ourselves that represent grocery store chains,” Burt Jones said.
According to county tax records, Bill Jones purchased the five parcels from the Crowe family estate on Jan. 10 of this year for $3.25 million.
Jones said there were verbal offers for the purchase of the property for a grocery in the past but at present there is “nothing concrete or firm.”
Horton asked Jones if he would like to use the property for a new car business.
“We’re in the new car business,” Jones said. “If you are in a certain business, you wouldn’t want to handicap yourself going into it.”
“What I’m not hearing is what you really want to do with the property, except get it rezoned,” Commissioner Mark Saxon said.
Saxon was the sole negative vote on the rezone.
Three citizens spoke during the public hearing on White’s request to rezone the 1.4 acres on Epps Bridge Parkway.
Two had spoken before the Planning Commission, which last month unanimously recommended approval of the rezone request.
Kathy Hurley, 1041 Laurel Place, president of the Tanglebrook Home Owners Association, said she was not in favor of or opposed to the rezone.
Hurley said her concern is with the impact of all development in the area on access to her subdivision, and Hurley and asked the Commission to be sensitive to that issue.
Julie Hunter, 1023 Pine Ridge Court, the property manager for the five lots that are on Pine Ridge Court and are not owned by White and for the mobile home park behind the complex, said that the financial institution is attempting to “use our Pine Ridge Court” as an entrance.
Pine Ridge Court is a private drive that is not maintained by the county, and she said the financial institution should be required to have its own entrance off Epps Bridge Parkway.
“Don’t forget about the remaining five duplexes that are there that are residences to 10 families,” Hunter said.
William Peake, 1012 Pine Ridge Court, asked what kind of help the county would provide for those who had to move if the rezone was approved.
The Commission imposed the condition on the rezone that the financial institution maintain the private road at county standards at least up to the entrance to its property.
White also asked the county to reduce from 50 feet to 15 feet the buffer against adjoining residential properties.
Hunter also spoke during the hearing on that condition, saying that it was important that the county recognize that “We are there.”
Attorney David Ellison, 1521 Welbrook Road, representing White, responded by telling the Commission that the residents of the duplexes are leasors.
None of the property owners had spoken up in objection, Ellison said.
The Board approved that variance request, in a vote of 3 to 1. Saxon cast the negative vote.
I was not able to attend the Board of Commissioners meeting.
Sarah Bell did attend and recorded the video below.
Discussion of the shopping center rezone request begins at 14:27 in the video.
Discussion of the financial center rezone begins at 1:18:40.
NOTE: For some reason, it took three attempts at uploading this video to find success. It had taken two attempts at rendering before that. I apologize for the delay. 12:58 p.m., 5/9/2019.