Friday, September 06, 2019

Oconee County Commission Struggles With Its New Residential Lot Size Requirements In Three Rezone Cases

***Split Votes And Split Decisions***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday night to impose a minimum lot size of 1.5 acres on a 10.1-acre residential subdivision off Mars Hill Road and in a split vote agreed to allow a 42.5-acre residential subdivision off Ruth Jackson Road to have lots of only 1 acre.

The Board struggled with a request to create three lots out of a five-acre tract off Moores Ford Road near the Apalachee River and ended up tabling the request without a resolution.

The owners were asked to explore a way of adding another acre to the tract so that each of the three new lots could be two acres in size.

In what is likely to be a comment the Board will hear again in the future, the developers of the two larger projects said the county’s new lot size requirements for residential developments make it financially difficult to build homes in the county.

The three zoning requests on Tuesday’s agenda were underway when the Board on July 2 more than doubled the minimum size for a lot without county sewer in the commonly used R-1 Single-Family Residential District zoning category.

The change was from 30,000 square feet to 65,340 square feet, or from .69 acres to 1.5 acres.

RWJ Inc. Request

Rodney Jones, owner of RWJ Inc., was asking the Board to allow him to rezone the 10.1 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.

Thomas And Horton 9/3/2019

The county planning staff had recommended approval with the condition that the minimum lot size be 1.5 acres, but the Planning Commission last month had recommended that the 1.5-acre requirement be stricken.

Under the old Unified Development Code, in place when Jones began his rezone request, the minimum lot size would have been .69 acres.

Jones told the Board that the increase in lot size would result in his being able to build only five houses. Part of the acreage in the proposed 9-lot concept plan Jones had submitted is set aside for a stormwater retention pond.

Jones told the Board that the smaller number of lots would result in a subdivision that produced less revenue to the county from property taxes, that the increased lot size would result in more grass that would need to be watered by homeowners, and that his costs would increase dramatically.

“If we can’t waive Condition 4,” Jones said referring to the requirement that lot sizes be a minimum of 1.5 acres, “I’m going to ask to table this because my project will not work with an acre and a half minimum lots.”

Public Hearing

The only member of the public who spoke, Mike Lundie, 1251 Oaklake Terrace, off Mars Hill Road, said he was opposed to the development because of the increased traffic it would put on Mars Hill Road.

Commissioner Chuck Horton told Jones “there is no creativity” to the proposed concept plan with the nine lots “You’ve got houses in there stacked up. I don’t know how in my opinion it enhances the area.”

Gabriel Quintas, assistant planning director, said the staff recommendation for the lot increase was not the result of the new code, but of the need to fit the subdivision better with the surrounding area.

Horton made the motion to approve the rezone request with the conditions of staff, including that the minimum lot size be 1.5 acres. Horton was joined by Commissioners Mark Thomas and William “Bubber” Wilkes in the vote.

Commission Mark Saxon had recused himself from the discussion of the rezone. (He told me after the meeting the property that was the subject of the rezone had been in his wife’s family in the past.)

Saphire Properties

Bret Thurmond, representing Sapphire Properties owner Robert Scott, was asking the Board to 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-2 classification (Residential Two Family homes) that he requested but does not meet the requirement in the current Unified Development Code.

The staff recommended denial of the request.

If the Board were to approve the rezone, the staff recommended that the category be changed to AR (Agriculture Residential) and that lot size be a minimum of 2 acres, as specified in the new Unified Development Code.

The Planning Commission voted 8-0 to approve the rezone with lot size of 1 acre under an R-1 (Residential Single Family) classification.

Thurmond told the Board that he accepted the Planning Commission recommendation that the zone category R-1 be used and that rather than 40 lots, as originally proposed under the R-2 request, the new plan would be for 28 lots.

“We were looking to get more lots, because it is expensive,” Scott told the Board, “But I’d be satisfied if I could get that 1-acre parcel.”

“If we get an acre and a half,” Scott added, “I’ve got to go in and really run the numbers.”

Hearing And Vote

Rachel Cooper, 1250 Ruth Jackson Road, was the only person who spoke during the public hearing, but she said she represented a number of others in the area as well.

Cooper Before Commission 9/3/2019

Cooper said she and her neighbors are concerned about traffic from the subdivision and that Ruth Jackson Road and “the home owners on it are not prepared or equipped to handle lot sizes this small. We the homeowners on the street are requesting a minimum of 2-acre lots.”

Following a lengthy back-and-forth between the Board and Thurmond and Scott, Commissioner Thomas made a motion to approve the rezone under the AR category but allow for 1 acre lots, rather than the 2-acres as stated in the Unified Development Code modification approved by the Board on July 2.

Thomas was joined by Wilkes in voting in favor of the motion, and Horton and Saxon voted against it.

Board Chair John Daniell broke the tie by voting with Thomas and Wilkes.

Cooper Gin Road Rezone

Stedman Anglin asked the Board to allow him 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.

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.

Anglin said he accepted the condition.

The Planning Commission voted 9 to 0 in favor of the rezone.

The Board of Commissioners, without discussion, voted unanimously in favor as well.

Moores Ford Road Rezone

Tracie and Thomas Hedges appeared before the Board on Tuesday asking for a rezone of 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 And Thomas Hedges Before Commission 9/3/2019

The Hedges recently had created the 5-acre tract from a surrounding parcel owned by Tracie Hedges’ parents.

The pair wants to create three lots, each of about 1.667 acres, from the five-acre parcel. The plan is to build on two of the proposed three lots, they said in the rezone request.

The Hedges do not want to change the zoning classification from its current AR (Agricultural Residential), which requires that lot sizes be 2 acres.

Prior to the changes in the UDC, the property was zoned simply A-1 for Agriculture, which had a minimum lot size of 1.17 acres. The A-1 category was eliminated in the changes to the Unified Development code.

The staff recommended denial on the grounds that the use is not consistent with the surrounding area.

If the Board were to approve the rezone, the staff recommended that no lot be smaller than 2 acres in size, which is the requirement of the AR zoning category.

Moores Ford Vote

The Planning Commission voted 8 to 1 to allow the rezone with the condition that lots not be smaller than 1.67 acres.

Following discussion with Tracie Hedges at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Thomas made a motion to approve the rezone with the condition that lots be no smaller than 1.67 acres.

Wilkes joined Thomas in the vote, but Horton and Saxon voted against it. Daniell broke the tie by voting against the motion.

Daniell said he could not support anything less than 2 acres.

The Board then voted unanimously to table the request until Oct. 1 to allow the Hedges to see if they can acquire an additional acre from the larger parcel.

School Board Letter

Brock Toole, chief operations officer for Oconee County Schools, submitted a letter dated Aug. 19, the date of the Planning Commission meeting, to Guy Herring, director of the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department, regarding the four rezones before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Toole said 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 to the Planning Commission or the Board of Commission regarding the four rezones.

Unused Lot Inventory

Toole, in his letter, said there are 1,794 “active permits” in the North Attendance Zone.

Oconee County Schools are divided into two districts for assignment of students to the system’s two middle and two high schools, and Malcom Bridge Elementary School and North Oconee High School are in the North Attendance Zone.

Both the Jones and Sapphire Properties projects fall in the North Attendance Zone, which is the more developed of the two districts.

Assistant Planning Director Quintas told me in an email message yesterday that the county has approved 5,010 subdivision lots in what he called “active” subdivisions, but 2,440 of those do not yet contain houses.

Planner Kyle Stephens said in an email message this morning that active developments are developments with active residential construction taking place, or a neighborhood that has been completely finished out.

The massive Parkside and Westland subdivisions, with 1,175 residential lots between them, are included in the active count, Stephens said.

Inactive would mean residential developments that have received zoning approval and are currently dormant, or are dormant projects with expired development plans, Stephens wrote.

Quintas told me “these figures are rough estimates.”


At the Tuesday meeting the Board of Commissioners made two appointments to the 12-member Planning Commission and five appointments to the nine-member Recreation Advisory Committee.

The Board appointed Brian Fosen, 1011 Rocky Ranch Farm Drive, off Macolm Bridge Road, and Scott Green, 1403 Whitlow Ridge Drive, off Union Church Road, to the Planning Commission.

Fosen is a commercial manager at Caterpillar, according to his application. Green lists his occupation as realtor and appraiser.

Fosen and Green will replace Chuck Steen and Bill Yarbrough, whose terms expire this month.

To the Recreation Affairs Advisory Committee, the Board appointed: Jeanne Barsanti, 1170 Oliver Bridge Road, retired veterinarian; Jason Hewell, 1200 Brighton Lane, financial manager; Melissa Hopkinson, 3776 Whitlow Creek Drive, college professor; Leslie Hunsinger, 1100 Felton Drive, claim specialist, and Kimberly Thomas, 1010 Ridgevie Lane, University of Georgia director of facilities.

Barsanti and Hunsinger currently serve on the Committee.

Election Precinct Changes

Fran Leathers, director of the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, updated the Board of Commissioners at the Tuesday meeting on changes made to the county’s precinct map.

City Hall And Annex Precincts Before Merger

The City Hall and Annex precincts have been combined, Leathers said, primarily because the room available at the Annex polling place, located in the county’s Government Annex on Greensboro Highway on the south of Watkinsville, is not easily accessible by wheelchair.

Voters in the new precinct, to be called City Hall and labeled Precinct 1, will use the Watkinsville City Hall, 191 VFW Drive in Watkinsville. Voters in the City Hall Precinct have used that location in the past.

The new precinct has 4,085 voters and incorporates all of the city of Watkinsville as well as surrounding areas. It is similar in size to Malcom Bridge and Civic Center, Leathers said.

Leathers said only Watkinsville among the county’s four cities will hold elections in November. No other local or state elections will be on the ballot.

North High Shoals and Bogart did not have more than one candidate file for any of the open seats, so the elections have been cancelled. Bishop was not scheduled to hold elections this year.

Watkinsville voters, who will be using the old voting machines, will vote for mayor and one Council seat as well as on a Brunch Bill that changes the hours of serving alcohol of city restaurants.

Leathers told me after the meeting that incumbent Jason Presley qualified for Post 2 in North High Shoals after the filing deadline was extended.

Farmland Protection

The Board of Commissioners officially selected the farm of Jack L. Lewis Jr., 1180 Peck Circle in the south of the county, as the top-rated farm for the county’s Farmland Preservation Program.

Lewis is offering 34.79 acres for protection via an easement prohibiting future development.

Carole Ludwig, chair of the county’s Farmland Preservation Committee, told the Board at its agenda-setting meeting on Aug. 27 that her Committee has identified at least one farm, and possibly as many as three farms, that are eligible for protection under the county’s program.

Commission Chair Daniell said the county already has spent all of the funds set aside in the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on farms previously identified by the Committee and will not contribute financially to the purchase of the easement.

Ludwig said federal funds remain available.

Marvin D. Green, U.S. 441 south of Bishop, had the second ranked farm, and Steve and Paula Nezda, on Colham Ferry Road, had the submission ranked third among the five farms considered.


The video below is of the entire meeting of the Board of Commissioners on Sept. 3.

Discussion of the Rodney Jones rezone request begins at 6:10 in the video.

Discussion of Saphire Properties begins at 22:33 in the video.

Discussion of the rezone on Cooper Gin Road begins at 1:01:58 in the video.

Discussion of the rezone on Moores Ford Road begins at 1:04:52

Leathers made her report to the Board at 1:28:47 in the video.

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