Oconee County has obtained nine of the 11 easements for construction of a sewer line along Colliers Creek and Barber Creek that will be used to provide sewage treatment for the massive Parkside subdivision between Mars Hill Road and Hog Mountain Road.
Discussion with one of the remaining landowners is ongoing, according to County Attorney Daniel Haygood, but negotiations with the other–and most important landowner in terms of total needed acreage--has resulted in court action.
The Board of Commissioners, at its meeting on June 25, voted to initiate condemnation proceedings against Dickens Farms Inc., which owns an 102-acre parcel on Mars Hill Road across which a large part of the proposed sewer line is to run.
The Board of Commissioners offered Dickens Farms Inc. $50,315 for 74,466 square feet of permanent utility easement as well as related construction and access easements, but Dickens Farms Chief Executive Officer Doug Dickens said he wanted instead a rezone and sewage capacity so he can develop the property.
Despite the delays in obtaining the easements, County Attorney Haygood said on Wednesday that the county will be “fairly close” to meeting a Sept. 1 deadline for construction of the sewer line specified in a 2018 court settlement with Parkside Property Development LLC, which owns Parkside.
Needed Sewer Line
The sewer line along Colliers Creek and Barber Creek is needed to provide sewage treatment to Parkside, which will have 776 residential lots.
|Proposed Sewer Lines In Red (Click To Enlarge)|
The Board of Commissioners in 2004 had rezoned the 469 acres, which stretch from Mars Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road, as a master plan development that required sewage treatment because of the small size of the lots. The development also includes commercial components.
The Board of Commissioners, in early 2017, voted to refund the sewer capacity fees paid by Parkside and Westland, another large subdivision on U.S. 78 near the county line. Both subdivisions were dormant.
As part of that agreement, Parkside agreed not to begin discharging sewage into the county system until after Sept. 1, 2019.
County Attorney Haygood told me in an email exchange yesterday (Wednesday) that Parkside “is not anywhere near being ready to use the sewer lines as there is no final plat approved, and no building permits have been issued to this date.”
If the county does not meet the Aug. 1 deadline for acquiring the easements the county must extend the deadline for Parkside to begin paying sewer service charges for undeveloped lots in the project.
Parkside Builds Line
As part of the settlelment, Parkside must build the new sewer required to connect with an existing pump station on the county’s sewer line at Barber Creek and Daniells Bridge Road.
The county has two lines running down Daniells Bridge Road to its Calls Creek Water Reclamation Facility on the northeastern side of Watkinsville. The older of the two lines is inactive.
Parkside is to pay for the design of the new sewer line, build it, and reimburse the county for its cost of design work and acquisition of easements.
The county is required to obtain the easements for the sewer line from Mars Hill Road to Daniells Bridge Road by Aug. 1, 2019. The line at that point follows Colliers Creek, a tributary of Barber Creek, and then Barber Creek itself.
The remainder of the needed line is on property controlled by Parkside Development, 2300 Pete Dickens Road, in the west of the county south of Bogart. Mark Jennings is the registered agent.
Larger Proposed Collection System
The sewer line along Colliers Creek is part of a larger proposed sewage collection system, as of this point unbuilt, that will follow Barber Creek and the Parker Branch tributary to Barber Creek.
A spur of the proposed Colliers Creek sewer line will reach to Meadow Springs subvision off Cliff Dawson Road, another master plan development served by a sewer line along Cliff Dawson Road and Mars Hill Road.
Tim Durham, Oconee County Water Resources Department director, and Adam Layfield, Water Resources Department engineer, told me when I visited them at the Water Resources Department office on Tuesday that work on easements for that spur has not begin.
Durham and Layfield said the lines along Barber Creek upstream from Colliers Creek and on Parker Branch are only proposed at this point.
Final Discussions On Easements
County Attorney Haygood said in the email exchange that condemnation paperwork for Dickens Farms Inc. has not yet been filed with the Oconee County Superior Court but that it will be filed soon.
“The condemnation results in the title being vested in the County and will allow us to proceed with the line while the monetary damages are being determined,” Haygood wrote.
“The sole remaining easement should be obtained fairly soon as some last details are being worked out,” Haygood said. “If that falls through for any reason, condemnation is still an alternative.”
The county needs easements on two undeveloped parcels totaling 12.5 acres owned by Flo E. Wilkes, 1890 Mars Hill Road.
Colliers Creek flows across the two parcels, which abut the Dickens Farm Inc. 101.8-acre tract.
Dickens Farms Inc. Offer
At the Board of Commissioners meeting on June 25, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell reported that the conversations with Dickens Farms Inc. going back to October of last year “did not go well.”
Daniell reported that Dickens Farms Inc. said that the county should pay $2 million for the easements on the property at1790 Mars Hill Road and grant the company 200 sewer connections for development of the property.
Dickens subsequently asked the county to pay $4 million for the entire property, Daniell reported.
Daniell said that the county determined it had no use for the property and offered $150,000 for the easements.
This amount was to cover the needed 74,466 square feet of permanent utility easement, 73,891 square feet of 24-month temporary construction easement, and 12,242 square feet of access easement.
Next, Daniell reported, the county offered $125,000 and said that, if the offer were rejected, the county would obtain an appraisal of the value of the property easements.
Based on that appraisal, the county offered $50,315, Daniell said, and the offer was rejected on April 24.
Comments At Meeting
After reviewing the negotiations at the June 25 meeting, Daniell opened the floor for discussion.
|Doug Dickens 6/25/2019|
Doug Dickens said he was speaking on behalf of his family, which controls Dickens Farms Inc.
Dickens Farms Inc., 3982 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing, owns 16 parcels spread around the county, according to county tax records.
Dickens said his father had purchased the property on Mars Hill Road in the 1950s.
“We come here tonight not to argue, not to make a big issue. Our wish is to settle this thing. To do what’s right,” Dickens said.
Dickens held up a letter which he said was signed Sept. 12, 2005, by Gary Dodd, then director of the Oconee County Utility Department, promising him sewer capacity for the property.
He said the Commissioners know that he had a plan in 2004 to build a master plan development on the land similar to the one approved at that time for Parkside, across Mars Hill Road from his property, and for Meadow Springs, which abuts his property.
“I want you all to honor this letter,” Dickens said.
“We don’t want any money,” Dickens said. “We want sewer connections and the MPD (master plan development) plan that we had drawn in 2005, that we spent thousands of dollars having all done.”
“Give us the sewer, and give us our rezone,” he said. “We’ve been waiting on it for 14 years.”
In 2003, the county purchased the 197.5 acres that now is Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road from Dickens Farms Inc. for $2.96 million. The previous family sale of the property in 1995 had been for $327,738, according to county tax records.
Back And Forth
Following Dicken’s comments, Daniell said “the last few months have been very depressing for me. It’s been a very tough few months seeing where we’re headed with this transaction.”
Daniell told the Board that the county cannot do a rezone as part of an offer for property, has no need for the property, and explored unsuccessfully routes for the line that avoided the Dickens property.
He also said the county “still does not have residential sewer available even with the sewer (plant) upgrade.”
“Based on the benefits that are coming to the system, the extreme difference between the stance of both parties, I’m recommending that we move forward with authorization of condemnation,” Daniell told the Board.
What followed was a 12 minute exchange involving Dickens, Commissioner Mark Thomas, Commissioner Chuck Horton, County Attorney Haygood, and attorney Thomas Mitchell, who has represented the county in the negotiations for the Parkside and Westland settlement and is handling the condemnation.
Jason Dickens, secretary for Dickens Farms Inc., also joined in.
Horton made the motion to begin the condemnation. Following a second by Commissioner Mark Saxon, the vote was unanimous.
The entire deliberation took up 25 minutes of a 38-minute meeting.
Land Use Committee
Early in the meeting on June 25, Daniell had told the Board that six members of the county’s Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee have terms expiring on Sept. 30 of this year.
Daniell said the purpose of the Committee has not been clear and that many of its meetings in recent years have been cancelled or did not have a quorum.
Daniell said is was his recommendation that no applications be accepted for the expiring terms.
Daniell said the remaining six members on the Committee will become a Task Force that will be asked to review the recently completed county Transportation Study.
After completion of that assignment, Daniell said, the Task Force will be dissolved until another is needed.
Committee Chair Responds
Maria Caudill, currently chair of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, told the Board that her term is one of those expiring.
She also noted that she is the only woman on the Committee.
“I think when you do things like this, you cut the amount of discussion with people within the community. You’re taking away our voice. And not only that, you can scratch this a little bit more, our liberties, because we pay taxes.”
“Gentleman, I hope that you can examine your hearts and souls on what you are doing bit by bit,” Caudill said. “Because I don’t know that you’re moving forward and listening to the people of this community.”
The Board accepted Daniell’s recommendation without responding to Caudill and put the action on the consent agenda.
The Board finalized the action when it approved the consent agenda, again without discussion, at its meeting on July 2.
I was out of town and not able to attend the June 25 Board of Commissioners meeting.
Sarah Bell did attend and recorded the video below.
Discussion of the condemnation proceedings against Dickens Farms Inc. begins at 12:37 in the video.
The discussion of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee begins at 3:04 in the video.