Friday, November 29, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Economic Development Strategy For Implementation By Chamber Of Commerce

***Also Take Stance On Local Control***

Oconee County commissioners on Tuesday night gave informal approval to an economic development strategy outlined to them by Courtney Bernardi, president of the Oconee Chamber of Commerce, who now heads up economic development efforts for the county.

The strategy, according to Bernardi’s report to the Commission, includes supporting, nurturing, and investing in existing businesses, targeting professional and technology jobs, and leveraging the proximity to and relationships with the University of Georgia.

The plan is to focus on three “key industry segments”: Technology Solutions, Health Sciences and Services, and Professional and Corporate Services, according to Bernardi’s report.

The Board on Tuesday also preemptively gave tentative approval to a resolution directed at the county’s legislative delegation stating its support for locally-established building design standards.

The Board also tentatively approved renewal of alcohol licenses for the county for 2020 and issuance of a new license that will keep the total number of licenses in 2020 at the same level as 2019.

The Board of Commissioners meets again on Tuesday, when it is scheduled to consider a request by Life Church of Athens for a special use permit to build a community-scale church on just under nine acres at the corner of Summit Oaks Drive and Summit Grove Drive north of Watkinsville.

Bernardi’s Report

Chamber President Bernardi gave the Board of Commissioners a three-page documenting putting on paper the oral presentation she had given to the county’s Industrial Development Authority at its meeting on Nov. 11.

Bernard At IDA Meeting 11/11/19

Bernard was summarizing the work of the Task Force on Economic Development appointed by the Board of Commissioners to give Bernardi direction as the Chamber undertakes the economic development responsibilities for the county.

The county has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chamber earlier this year that pays the Chamber $100,000 annually to handle the county’s efforts at economic development.

Bernardi will lead those efforts.

The vision statement for that activity, according to the document submitted by Bernardi, is: “Grow the jobs of tomorrow by investing in our current businesses, creating an unmatched environment.”

The Board took no formal action on the report, but, according to County Administrator Justin Kirouac, has a “consensus to move forward with the direction recommended in the presentation.”

The Board also agreed to keep the Task Force active to serve future needs, he said.

Resolution For Legislators

Kirouac brought the resolution on local control of building design standards to the Board of Commissioners, saying that the Association County Commissioners of Georgia had asked that local governments adopt a statement in support of local control.

Kirouac did not make mention of House Bill 302 in his summary statement to the Board prior to the meeting, but the action clearly was directed at that bill.

Georgia Rep. Vance Smith, a Republican from Pine Mountain, north of Columbus, introduced HB 302 in the 2019 legislative session, and it remains alive for possible action when the legislature reconvenes in January.

The bill states that “No county or municipal corporation shall adopt or enforce any ordinance or regulation relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings.”

When HB 302 did not make it out of the House Rules Committee, Smith introduced a resolution creating a House Study Committee to examine the “problems” of local design standards and "recommend any action or legislation which the Committee deems necessary or appropriate.”

Oconee County’s two representatives, Houston Gaines from the 117th House District and Marcus Wiedower from the 119th, voted in favor of the resolution, as did Spencer Frye from the 118th in Clarke County. Smith's resolution passed, and the Study Committee has been meeting.

The resolution tentatively approved by the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday is directed at “each member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Districts 117 and 119, and Senate District 47 and made available for distribution to the public and the press.”

The reference to Senate District 47 appears to be an error. Oconee County is in the 46th Senate District. Sen. Bill Cowsert represents the 46th Senate District in the General Assembly.

Alcohol Licenses

County Clerk Kathy Hayes brought to the Board alcohol license renewal applications for 2020 from 18 businesses seeking package licenses, from 20 restaurants, and from two wholesale distributors.

The numbers had been 19 package license renewal requests in 2019, 20 restaurant renewals requests, and two distributor license renewals.

Hayes separately brought to the Board a request by Sanjeev Arora for a new alcohol license for Super 76 at 3351 Macon Highway in Farmington. Fast Phil's at that location held a package license last year.

Hayes reported that license fees in 2020 for the renewals will bring in $66,400. In addition, Arora will be required to pay $100 for his application and $1,000 for his license.

In 2019, Hayes reported that the renewal fees would produce $65,400 in revenue.

The Board of Commissioners put the new application and the renewals on the consent agenda, with the resolution on local control, meaning these items will be approved without further discussion unless a commissioner asks that the item be removed from the consent agenda.

Life Church of Athens

An overflow crowd turned out at the Planning Commission on Nov. 11 when that group, recommended 9-1 that the Board of Commissioners grant Life Church of Athens a special use permit to build a church at Summit Oaks Drive and Summit Grove Drive.

Most of those who spoke were in opposition to the proposal, saying that the church would adversely affect the neighborhood and raising concerns about the impact of the church on traffic at the intersection of Summit Grove Drive and SR 15 (North Main Street).

Dwight Moss of Hayesville, N.C., owns the property, which was zoned in 1987 OIP (Office Institutional Professional) to allow for the development of an office condominium park. The office park was never built, and the property is vacant and undeveloped.

Life Church of Athens needs a special use permit because of the scope of the church, labeled a community-scale church. The church currently is located a 120 Ware Street in Athens.

The Board of Commissioners has continued to receive letters and email stating opposition to the Planning Commission recommendation and the Life Church of Athens request, records released by the county show.

Athens College of Ministry

A second rezone on the agenda for Tuesday night also has been controversial.

In 2017 the Board of Commissioners approved a rezone request to convert a dormant golf course in the far eastern part of the county, on the eastern side of the Oconee River, where Oconee, Clarke and Oglethorpe counties meet, into a campus for the Athens College of Ministry.

The Board granted a special use permit to Green Hills Farms LLC of North High Shoals for100 acres on Barnett Shoals Road that is zoned for agriculture but, under the permit, would be used for the ministry college.

Green Hill Farms sold the land to ACMIN LLC in March of 2017, according to county tax records.

Kevin York and Icy Forrest LLC filed suit to block the special use permit, naming Oconee County, Green Hills Farms LLC, the Athens College of Ministry and ACMIN LLC as defendants.

On Sept. 25 of this year, Superior Court Judge Patrick Haggard vacated the special use permit of 2017 and sent the issue back to the Board of Commissioners to determine if the Athens College of Ministry can meet the requirements of the county’s Unified Development Code for a “private college.”

The Board is to take up that question on Tuesday night.

No Video

I was unable to attend the meeting on Tuesday night, initially because of travel plans and then because of illness.

Sarah Bell had planned to attend and record a video of the meeting for me.

A scheduling error made that impossible.

I had hoped to be able to use the county’s video of the meeting in writing this story, but the county has not uploaded any video of Board of Commissioners meetings since Sept. 24.

For this post, I relied on the documents produced in advance of the meeting and an email exchange with Kirouac and a telephone conversation with Commissioner Chuck Horton in determining what action took place at the meeting.

I thank Kirouac and Horton for their help.

I will embed the county’s video here once it becomes available.

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