Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Postpone Decision On Buffer In Morningside Subdivision On Hodges Mill Road

***Will Reconsider On Aug. 6***

Unable to decide if a builder should be allowed to violate a buffer on six lots in Morningside subdivision off Hodges Mill Road to deal with storm water drainage, the Board of Commissioners last week put off a decision until its August meeting.

Commissioner Mark Saxon had made a motion to deny the request, and Commissioner Chuck Horton seconded the motion, but they could not get support from the other three commissioners.

When Commissioner Mark Thomas then said he wanted to make a motion that “something be addressed to deal with the drainage” on the six lots, County Attorney Daniell Haygood said this really called for a postponement of a decision.

The Commission then voted unanimously to let the county staff come up with a recommendation on how drainage can be handled and to take up the matter again at the next regular Board meeting on Aug. 6.

In other action, the Board approved unanimously a request by Prince Avenue Baptist Church to be given a special use to expand its campus between Ruth Jackson Road and U.S. 78 and a request for a rezone of 19.3 acres on Virgil Langford Road for commercial development.

Commission Chair John Daniell used time at the front of the meeting to announce again that the county had agreed to purchase 7.63 acres at the intersection of U.S. 441 and Old Macon Highway and said that the purchase price of $650,000 was consistent with recent land sales in the area.

Scout Construction Request

Scout Construction LLC, owned by Jud Shiver, was asking the Board of Commissioners at its July 2 meeting to allow him to enter and modify the 40-foot buffer on six lots, each of about one acre in size, on Morningside Drive.

Saxon 7/2/2019

Jeff Carter of Carter Engineering, representing Shiver, told the Board of Commissioners that Shiver has discovered drainage problems with the six lots and needs to use the buffered land to solve the problem.

Scout Construction, based out of Shiver’s home on 3371 Barnett Shoals Road in the eastern tip of Oconee County, purchased the six one-acre lots covered by the rezone modification request in October of 2013, according to county tax records.

The Board of Commissioners had established the 40-foot “undisturbed buffer” when it rezoned the property for Morningside subdivison in 2001.

Only Commissioner William E. “Bubber” Wilkes from that Commission currently serves on the Board. Wilkes voted to approve the rezone with the buffer back in 2001.

County Assistant Planning and Code Enforcement Director Gabriel Quintas told the Board that the county has issued building permits for the six lots and that “Residences are under construction on several of the lots. Some of the residences are almost completely built.”

Citizen Comment

Two residents of neighboring Timarron subdivision off Hodges Mill Road next door to Morningside subdivision spoke against the request by Scout Construction at the July 2 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Amber Trevors, 1070 St. Albans Path, president of the Timarron subdivision home owners association, said protecting the trees in the buffer was important to the value of property in Timarron subdivision.

Trevors said that she had been told both by her realtor and her builder when she bought her home more than 12 years ago that the buffer was in place on the Morningside subdivision lots.

Trevors also said disruption of the buffer threatened to cause draining problems for her subdivision.

Derek Carroll, 1111 Timaron Trail, also a member of the subdivision home owners association, also emphasized the problems of draining should the proposed change be allowed.

The culvert on Hodges Mill Road cannot handle any additional water, Carroll said.

“I cannot see how we will not be impacted,” he said.

Trevors and others made these same comments to the Planning Commission at its June 16 meeting, and that citizen committee voted 8-1 against the request by Scout Construction.

Commissioner Comments

“Why would we be this far along in this project and be discussing what we’re talking about tonight?” Commissioner Horton asked Carter. The subdivision build out is nearly complete.

“That is a good question,” Carter said. “I can tell you what I think is the answer to that.”

Carter said he thinks the builder had not realized there was a problem until the “scrub pines” on the six lots were cleared.

“That’s when everybody realized there was a problem,” Carter said. “Now why this was not addressed early on? I can’t answer there. I don’t know. It should have been addressed when the subdivision was constructed. But it wasn’t.”

Commissioners Saxon and Thomas focused on the water flow problems. Both were concerned with the location of the proposed drainage ditch, which Carter showed in an aerial map.

Thomas and Wilkes voted against Saxon’s motion to deny Shiver’s request, creating a tie vote.

Daniell voted against as well to break the tie.

Prince Avenue Baptist Church

Prince Avenue Baptist Church Inc. asked the Board for a special use to allow it to add a fellowship hall and maintenance building to its campus, located between U.S. 78 and Ruth Jackson Road in the west of the county.

The church received a conditional use permit in 1998 for development of what was then a 40-acre campus on land zoned for agricultural use.

The church has since acquired additional contiguous acreage along U.S. 78 west of the existing campus to bring the total size of the current campus to 60.75 acres.

The request approved by the Board of Commissioners was to extend the conditional use to the added acreage.

The plan is to construct a 16,000-square-foot fellowship hall in the open area west of and across from the existing sanctuary and educational building and an 8,000-square-foot maintenance building in the wooded area near the existing radio station building on the south of the campus.

Commercial Subdivision On Virgil Langford

Tim Burgess and Gavin Griffeth asked the Board of Commissioners to rezone 19.3 acres north of Virgil Langford Road and east of the Oconee Connector currently zoned mostly A-1 (Agriculture) to B-2 (Highway Business) for development of a commercial subdivision.

The pair has developed much of the land along and north of Virgil Langford Road between SR 316 and the Oconee Connector into what now is a major medical complex, which includes the expanding Piedmont Athens Regional Oconee Health Campus.

Burgess, through Burgess Family Enterprises LLC of Monroe, and Griffeth, through Griffeth Investments LLC of Colbert, purchased the four parcels that make up the 19.3 acres in March of this year for $5.2 million from Emily Janice and Alan T. Burrell, according to county tax records.

At present, the land is divided by remnants of Jennings Mill Parkway.

The proposal is to relocate parts of the existing road and build new roads, including a signalized intersection with the Oconee Connector opposite the exit ramp from SR Loop 10.

The concept plan for the new project shows a commercial subdivision with 13 lots. Total square footage will be 173,601.

Burgess and Griffeth are calling the new project, approved by the Board, Research Quarter.

Daniell’s Comments

Daniell used the section at the beginning of the meeting set aside for commissioner comments to restate that the Board of Commissioners has agreed to purchase 7.63 acres just outside of the northern boundaries of Watkinsville for a future administrative building.

The Board made its decision following an executive session at the end of its June 25 agenda setting meeting.

The planned new facility will house the non-judicial government functions currently located in the Oconee County Courthouse in downtown Watkinsville and at the Oconee County Annex on Greensboro Highway on the south of Watkinsville.

The county says it has no timetable for construction of the building or movement of the county functions to the new location.

Purchase Price

The vacant land the county is purchasing is owned by Jacobs Properties LLLP of North Augusta, S.C., and assessed at $227,517, according to county tax records.

Daniell compared the $650,000 purchase price, or $85,109 per acre, with the price of five nearby properties going back to 2000.

These properties ranged from $78,652 per acre to $388,652 per acre.

The county appraiser has labeled the $388,652 per acre for the Fire Station Express Car Wash under construction at Hog Mountain Road and U.S. 441 as of “questionable fair market value.”

The next highest figures given by Daniell were $285,533 per acre for the nearby RaceTrak in 2000 and $121,428 per acre for the nearby Waffle House in 2003.

Daniell also announced that the Board will hold a Town Hall meeting at 7 p.m. on Aug. 1 at Oconee County Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road west of Butler’s Crossing. The special theme will be roundabouts, Daniell said.


I was out of town and unable to attending the meeting on July 2, but Sarah Bell did attend and recorded the video below. I obtained the video on Monday evenng when I returned to town.

Discussion of the Scout Construction rezone request is at 16:50 in the video.

Daniell made his comments about the county’s purchase of land for a future administrative building is at 1:52 in the video.


Anonymous said...

By issuing the building permits the county has given the builder a vested right it would seem. But, since a stomwater plan would not have been required for the individual lots, the county had no reason to deny the permits. I tend to think that the onus is on the builder in this case based on his prior knowledge of the drainage problems. A solution needs to be designed without a disturbance of the buffer as that would materially affect the owners in the adjacent neighborhood. Thanks for your reporting Dr. Becker.

Chuck Rosenberger said...

If the commission voted to deny the request for a change in the buffer zone why are they going to look at the request again at the next meeting?

Anonymous said...

Bubber, Bubber, Bubber.

"Wilkes voted to approve the rezone with the buffer back in 2001."

Now in 2019, Commissioner Saxon, seconded by Commissioner Horton, wants to keep the buffer in place as the county commissioners voted to do so in 2001, and Bubber votes AGAINST keeping the buffer he himself voted to establish!!

And Commissioners Mark Thomas and John Daniell went along with Bubber. Even though county commissioners established the buffer in 2001 ("The Board of Commissioners had established the 40-foot “undisturbed buffer” when it rezoned the property for Morningside subdivison in 2001"). Again, Bubber was one of the commissioners who established the buffer!! Now he votes to disturb the very buffer he helped establish??

This is madness y'all.

And another major point of contention is the county staff. Gabriel Quintas is the Oconee County Assistant Planning and Code Enforcement Director. Why did the county approve the six building lots permits in the first place? Was the proper research done? Quintas says the "Some of the residences are almost completely built", and now the flooding issue has suddenly arisen, when the six homes are almost finished?? County planning and code enforcement has to know potential flood plains & stormwater problem areas well in advance, way before anyone else. They need to be part of the checks & balances.

And Jeff Carter, of of Carter Engineering, representing Scout Construction LLC owned by Jud Shiver doesn't make any sense: "Carter said he thinks the builder had not realized there was a problem until the “scrub pines” on the six lots were cleared."

Sooo, the lots were cleared of scrub pines, but construction continued to the point where "some of the residences are almost completely built"??!! The builder and Jud Shivers didn't stop when the lots were first cleared and the builder then "realized was a problem".

This county is growing at an exponential rate. Yet the county doesn't have its act in order. Commissioner Bubber Wilkes voted to establish a buffer in 2001 and now in 2019 votes against the very same buffer. County planning and code enforcement staff approve six new housing lots but miss a drainage problem area directly adjacent to an undisturbed buffer the county commissioners themselves put in place in 2001. A builder realizes there is a drainage problem when six lots are cleared but the houses are still constructed anyway, and now the owner Jud Shivers wants to violate the established buffer, now when the houses are almost finished??

County elected officials and staff have to do better. This is a hot steaming mess. And there's only going to be more and more construction in this county. I'd like to know that the elected officials and county staff are up to the challenge, instead of asking for re-do's at the last minute.

Anonymous said...

Eight of the nine Planning Commissioners vote to keep the buffer in place. Eight out of nine.

Yet Daniell, Thomas and Wilkes vote against the Planning Commissioners near unanimous vote.

Why even have a Planning Commission? And Wilkes was on the commissioner in 2001 when they first approved the buffer.

Lee Becker said...

The Planning Commission recommended denial, but the Board of Commissioners makes the final decision. The Board of Commissioners didn't make a decision and will review the case again in August.

Anonymous said...

More incompetent actions by John Daniell. Daniell is comparing high density commercial (high traffic) parcels to a parcel for government building. A smaller tract goes for more than a larger in a hot commercial area. None of these factors apply. He is attempting to convince the taxpayers he made a good deal. Let’s face it we have a chair that does not have a background in this area and the taxpayers are literally paying for his constant mistakes - losing court cases, questionable land purchases....and on it goes.

David Hall said...

I'd like to know why good 'ol Bubber changed his mind on this. Are there new circumstances that would cause him to see things differently? Could it be that critical thinking, like maybe, someone might want to build on these seemingly profitable lots, might've been absent when first casting the vote? Aside of my sarcastic comments, why are the other two commissioners also going against the original decision that was made in good faith? Are there private relationships influencing the commissioners? Why would those three go against the building commission's decision? I'm aware they only tabled the decision for a future meeting but it seems they could've decided already. Is the decision to honor the original rezone so complicated that it needed to be tabled?

I understand the builder wants to save money but did he not know about the buffer in the first place? Are we supposed to believe that 6 scrub pines being cut down are the real cause of potential flooding? SMH to all these questions.

Unknown said...

Delaying the inevitable.....the builder will get his wish.

Chuck Rosenberger said...

the motion was denied. Two of the commissioners voted to deny. The chair voted to deny. The vote was 3 to 2, The motion was denied. The developer should have been made to reapply. The way I see it this decision has been made, and the developer lost. Why is the commission so dysfunctional that it has to discuss it again?

Anonymous said...

So someone in good faith buys lots that are sold and platted as buildable. The county has been taxing them as buildable, platted, lots of record. After construction begins the drainage issues become visible, there is a fix available by regrading that makes the lots to what they are supposed to be. Seems like it would be an easy solution, go through the rezoning process and have the conditioned changed. What's the big deal? That's why there is a rezoning process, things don't always work the way they are zoned. Are some of you just to a point you want to fight anything the commission does? If you think you could do a better job why not post as yourself and declare your candidacy?

Anonymous said...

Check out Daniell’s comments at beginning of meeting how he is try’s to ”explain” why the BOC overspent taxpayers money for an administration building. He is incorrectly comparing types of real estate and their selling values. A competent business person would never enter into a contract at such a purchase price and stay in business. This gives all the appearance of a closed door real estate deal that smells fishy.

Lee Becker said...

The motion was to deny the request. Three people voted AGAINST that motion. So the motion failed. There was never a motion to approve the request. The Board has to approve the request or deny it, but no such motion passed.