Life Church of Athens asked the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night to withdraw its request for a special use permit to build a church at Summit Oaks Drive and Summit Grove Drive north of Watkinsville.
The Board was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the church’s request but instead voted unanimously to approve the request by Life Church to withdraw the application “without prejudice and without restrictions on future filings.”
The proposal ran into strong opposition in the neighborhoods on Summit Oaks Drive and Summit Grove Drive, but it had received the endorsement of the Planning Commission.
Guy Herring, director of Planning and Code Enforcement for the county, gave no explanation of the request by Life Church for the withdrawal of the application.
In other action at its brief meeting on Tuesday, the Board approved for a second time a special use permit for Athens College of Ministry to build a campus on 100 acres on Barnett Shoals Road in the far eastern part of the county.
The Board also approved a bid from ER Snell Contractor Inc. of Snellville for $561,377 for construction of the roundabout at the bus and staff entrance to Malcom Bridge Elementary and Malcom Bridge Middle School.
On Wednesday, County Clerk Kathy Hayes announced that the Board of Commissioners has cancelled its meeting for Dec. 17, meaning the meeting on Tuesday was the last of the 2019 calendar year.
Life Church Of Athens
The Commission Chamber was full on Tuesday night as Commission Chair John Daniell began the hearing on the request by Life Church of Athens for the special use permit.
“The applicant has actually forwarded a request that this be withdrawn without prejudice and without restrictions on future filings,” Herring announced. “This would need to be approved by the Board.”
An overflow crowd also had 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 at the Planning Commission meeting 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.
Moss, rather than Life Church of Athens, was the actual applicant for the special use permit.
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.
Athens College of Ministry
The Board did hold a public hearing on the request by Athens College of Ministry that it be granted a special use permit for construction of a ministry campus on the eastern side of the Oconee River, where Oconee, Clarke and Oglethorpe counties meet.
In 2017 the Board of Commissioners approved a request to convert a dormant golf course into a campus for the Athens College of Ministry.
At that time, the Board granted a special use permit to Green Hills Farms LLC of North High Shoals for the 100 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.”
Herring told the Board that “staff notes that the special use request is compliant” with the requirements of the county’s Unified Development Code and “maintains its recommendation of approval” of the request.
Two citizens spoke against the request, raising concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff, but County Attorney Daniel Haygood told them the hearing could only focus on whether the special use permit was consistent with county code.
The Board vote to grant the permit was unanimous.
The bid by ER Snell for construction of the roundabout at the school entrance was the low of four bids submitted, Public Works Director Jody Woodall told the Board of Commissioners.
The Georgia Department of Transportation will provide $300,000 of the funding for the project, Woodall said, with the remaining money coming from the county’s General Fund, or savings account.
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners in June approved a $1.3 million contract with ER Snell for the Mars Hill Road and Malcom Bridge Road roundabout that now is complete.
The Board on Tuesday also approved the application of the Falls LLC, 8851 Macon Highway, for renewal of its alcohol license for 2020, adding it to the list of establishments to which it granted licenses for the new year.
Clerk Hayes said Falls LLC was not included in the initial list of 2020 applications tentatively approved at the Commission meeting at the end of last month because it was not completed at that time.
The Board, with its action on Tuesday, approved 19 applications for package sales, 21 applications by restaurants for sale by the drink, and for applications by two wholesale distributors.
The numbers had been 19 package license renewal requests in 2019, 20 restaurant renewals requests, and two distributor license renewals.
The video below is of the Dec. 3 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
I was out of town and unable to attend the meeting, but Sarah Bell did attend and recorded the video below.
Discussion of the Life Church of Athens request for withdrawal of its permit requests is at 7:38 in the video.
Discussion of the Athens College of Ministry permit is at 8:26 in the video.
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