Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Oconee County’s Increase In Residential Lot Size Requirements Challenged At Planning Commission Hearings

***Four Cases Before Commission***

All four of the applicants who appeared before the Oconee County Planning Commission last week had a similar request.

Each had begun the rezone application to convert land now zoned for agriculture to residential use before the county changed its regulations on minimum residential lot sizes, and each wanted to follow the old regulations rather than the new ones.

The new regulations more than double the minimum lot size in the commonly used R-1 Single-Family Residential District that does not have county sewer service from 30,000 square feet to 65,340 square feet, or from .69 acres to 1.5 acres.

The county planning staff recommended denial of two of the applications and conditional approval of two.

Developers of the two larger projects said the new county requirements simply make their subdivisions financially unfeasible.

In the end, the Planning Commission recommended approval of all four of the requests, mostly using the old standards.

The four rezone requests will be before the Board of Commissioners for final action at its meeting on Sept. 3.

Rodney Jones Request

Rodney Jones is asking the county to allow him to rezone just more than 10 acres at the corner of Mars Hill Road and Long Road from its current agricultural classification to the R-1 Single Family Residential classification so he can build a nine-lot subdivision.

Jones And Commission 8/19/2019

Jones told the Planning Commission that he sees the project as “a sister neighborhood” to Meridian subdivision, across Mars Hill Road from the proposed project. Jones built the homes in Meridian.

Jones, whose office is at 3651 Mars Hill Road just west of Meridian and the proposed new project, said the new requirement would reduce the number of lots in the subdivision and cause him to rethink the project entirely.

“I typically spend $25,000 on landscaping. I anticipate $60,000 on these lots if we have to do them as 1.5 acres,” Jones said.

“I’m going to have to take a long, hard look at the project,” Jones said. “To be honest with you, the numbers aren’t going to work for a residential development in this spot with acre and a half lots. So I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board and think about it some more.”

The three citizens who spoke at the Planning Commission hearing regarding Jones’ request were not concerned about lot size. They were concerned about the amount of traffic the subdivision will put on Long Road, which will provide the subdivision’s entrance.

The county planning staff had recommended approval on the condition that lot size be 1.5 acres, but the Planning Commission, in a 7-1 vote, recommended approval of the rezone without the requirement that lot size be 1.5 acres.

Zoning Changes Approved

Members of the Planning Commission at the Aug. 19 meeting expressed surprise at the changes identified by Jones.

The county planning staff has been proposing changes to county’s Unified Development Code in recent months, bringing them first to the Planning Commission for review and then to the Board of Commissioners for final action.

On June 17, the Planning Commission had approved changes to Article 4 of the Code that defined residential lot sizes, and the Board of Commissioners approved the changes on July 2.

In the old Code, the county had 10 zoning districts in which residences could be constructed, starting with the agricultural classification and moving through to mobile home district.

In the new code, the county has seven zoning districts on which residences can be constructed, starting with agricultural land and continuing to the mobile home classification.

Changes To R-1 And R-2 Districts

An R-1 District is the common classification used in residential subdivisions in the county. It is intended primarily for one-family residences.

In the old Unified Development Code, the minimum lot size in an R-1 District with either county water or sewer was 30,000 square feet, or .69 acres.

Without water or sewer, the minimum lot size was 51,000 square feet, or 1.17 acres. Only a small number of subdivisions in the county have county sewer.

Under the new regulations, the minimum lot size in an R-1 subdivision with sewer is 43,560 square feet (1 acre), and the minimum lot size in an R-1 subdivision without sewer is 65,340 square feet (1.5 acres).

An R-2 category exists in both the old and new Unified Development Code and is intended primarily for two-family residences.

In the old Code, a single family residence could be built in an R-2 District on a 30,000 square foot lot with public water or sewer and on a 51,000 square foot lot without public water or sewer.

In the new Code, a single family residence can be built in an R-2 District on a 30,000 square foot lot with sewer and on a 51,000 square foot lot without public sewer.

If public sewer is not available, the Oconee County Environmental Health Department can require larger lot sizes if the soils for the lot are not satisfactory for a septic system.

Sapphire Properties

Bret Thurmond was the second applicant to come before the Planning Commission at its meeting on Aug. 19.

Scott And Commission 8/19/2019

Thurmond, representing Sapphire Properties owner Robert Scott, was asking that the county allow for a rezone of a 42.5 acre parcel on Ruth Jackson Road for a 40-lot, single family subdivision.

In the application, Thurmond said minimum lot size would be .7 acres, which would have been allowed in the old R-1 or R-2 classification but does not meet the requirements of either category in the current Unified Development Code.

“We’re sort of caught in that same mix here as the previous application that you just considered,” Thurmond said. “We were looking for a 1-acre lot subdivision.”

“With the swap over to the new UDC, it sort of eliminated being able go to into an R-1,” he said.

The staff recommended denial of the request, saying that “Only single-family residential use has been proposed under the current request and staff holds that this is not consistent with the stated purpose of the R-2 zoning district.”

Scott spoke on behalf of the rezone, saying “The intention is to build something that is viable.” The 1.5 acre lot size “just doesn’t work,” he said.

The Planning Commission voted 8-0 to approve the rezone.

Cooper Gin Road

Stedman Anglin is asking to be allowed to subdivide 6.9 acres at 1130 Cooper Gin Road in the far northwest of the county to create two lots, 3.89 acres and 3.06 acres in size.

Anglin And Commission  8/19/2019

The Anglin family, in 1996, had already created a 2-acre lot and the 6.9-acre lot through a rezone that specified that no future division of the original tract would be allowed.

Anglin, son of the owner, Mary Lou Mays Anglin, wanted that original restriction lifted.

The planning staff set as a condition for its recommendation of approval that the property be rezoned from its current AR-1 classification to AR-3, which would set a minimum lot size of 3 acres for the two lots.

The new Unified Development Code does not have an AR-1 classification. AR-1 became AR in the new code, and AR has a minimum lot size of two acres.

The Planning Commission voted 9 to 0 in favor of the rezone. (Karen Hilyard had joined the meeting at that point.)

Moores Ford Road

Tracie and Thomas Hedges are seeking to rezone a 5-acre parcel off Moores Ford Road just east of where that road crosses the Apalachee River in the west of the county.

Tracie Hedges And Commission 8/19/2019

At present, the land is zoned for agriculture, but the pair wants to create three lots, each of about 1.667 acres, from the existing parcel. The plan is to build on two of the proposed three lots.

The Hedges do not want to change the zoning classification.

The staff recommended denial on the grounds that the use is not consistent with the surrounding area. If the county approves the rezone, the staff recommended that no lot be smaller than 2 acres in size.

Under the new zoning regulations approved in July, the minimum lot size for the existing agricultural zone is five acres. For property zoned AR (Agriculture Residential), it is 2 acres.

Under the old zoning regulations, an AR-1 zoning category existed, allowing lot sizes of 1.17 acres.

The Planning Commission voted 8 to 1 to allow the rezone with the condition that lots not be smaller than 1.67 acres. (This is an update from the earlier version of the story. I had missed the change to 1.67 acres in the motion. I apologize for the error.)

School System Letter

Brock Toole, chief operations officer for Oconee County Schools, submitted a letter on the date of the Planning Commission meeting indicating that the four rezones before the Commission would result in “52 lots which equates to 26 students.”

These students would go to Dove Creek Elementary School, Malcom Bridge Elementary School, and Rocky Branch Elementary School and then to Malcom Bridge Middle School and North Oconee High School.

Malcom Bridge Middle School already is over capacity by 48 students, Toole wrote.

Toole did not provide a recommendation for Planning Commission or Board of Commission action on the four rezones.

Westland And Parkside

The changes approved by the Board of Commissioners in July will decrease the density of new subdivisions in the county, making them more costly to developers, as Jones and Scott said.

It also will result in fewer students attending the county's schools.

That should put pressure on the use of land already zoned for residential development.

In two subdivisions alone–Westland and Parkside–the county has approved 1,175 residential lots.

As part of a settlement of court cases, the developers of the two subdivisions agreed to reduce the number of lots in both developments to the 1,175 figure, eliminate proposed attached homes in Westland, include lots reserved for persons 55 years old and older in Parkside, and limit to 75 the number of building permits requested per year in each of the two subdivisions.

Last Of Requests

The Parkside development wraps around Northwest Woods, with entrances on Mars Hill Road and Hog Mountain Road. The Hog Mountain Road part of the project abuts Oconee Veterans Park.

Westland is on U.S. 78 near the Apalachee River.

At present, according to an analysis by consultants for the Georgia Department of Transportation, 86 percent of the land in the county is agricultural or forestry.

Gabriel Quintas, assistant director of the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department, told the Planning Commission that the four rezone requests before it at its Aug. 19 meeting were the last submitted during the transition period between the old regulations and the new ones.


The video below is from the Aug. 19 Planning Commission meeting.

Consideration of Jones’ rezone request begins at 1:23.

Consideration of the Sapphire Properties rezone is at 27:40.

Consideration of the Cooper Gin Road rezone is at 47:57.

Consideration of the Moores Ford Road rezone is at 50:40.

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