Thursday, December 12, 2019

Watkinsville Council And Oconee County In Discussion Over Residential Sewer Capacity Allocations

***Based On 1991 Agreement***

Watkinsville City Council last month approved a sewer policy that allocates future residential sewer capacity for intensive residential development of the city center rather than for development of vacant land not at the city core.

At present, the city has no residential sewer capacity available for allocation and is dependent on Oconee County for its sewer services.

Watkinsville is in discussion, however, with the county about receiving some future allocation of sewer capacity from the county’s Calls Creek Water Reclamation Facility on the northern edge of the city.

Those discussions are based on a 1991 agreement between the city of Watkinsville and Oconee County that transferred Watkinsville’s water and sewer services to the county and requires the county to provide the city “with reasonable sewer capacity for its citizens, residences and businesses.”

Justin Kirouac, Oconee County administrator, said the county is still in the process of determining the allocation of residential sewer capacity the county can make to the city and that there is “no specific time frame for reaching an agreement.”

The discussions are constrained, according to Kirouac, by the current limited capacity of the county to treat wastewater and by agreements the county made in the early 2000s to allocate residential sewer capacity to massive master plan developments spread around the county.

Council Action

The Watkinsville Council passed an ordinance at its Nov. 20 meeting creating an overlay district that encompasses the city’s downtown.

Overlay Map With District Outlined In Red (Click To Enlarge)

Residential sewage capacity will be allocated within that overlay district based on a variety of criteria, including current zoning for single family, multi-family or mixed use development, use of “design standards that reflect the aesthetics and character of Watkinsville,” and installation or upgrade of sidewalks on the property.

The ordinance states that “Mayor and Council seek to utilize the City’s allocation of capacity to strengthen downtown by allowing more mixed-use development with a residential component, to make the community more walkable and limit traffic impacts, by carefully increasing density in areas within walking distance (1/4 mile) of areas zoned Downtown (DT) or Historic Main (HM).”

The ordinance does allow Council to allocate residential sewer capacity outside the overlay district.

“When capacity is available,” the ordinance states, “the City reserves the right to consider extending wastewater service outside the overlay district for the express purpose of allowing innovative, generally mixed-use, projects that offer an exceptional or unusual mix of amenities and connectivity, that honor the goals of the City’s land use plan, zoning codes, and overall goals of better connecting its citizens.”

Southwire Property

The ordinance makes no reference to the 66-acre Southwire property on Barnett Shoals Road, but Council Member Brian Brodrick made prominent mention of that property during a meeting of the county’s Economic Development Task Force.

Southwire Property From County Tax Files (Click To Enlarge)

Brodrick represented the city on that body, which outlined an economic development plan for the county, and he said a mixed use project is being considered for the Southwire property.

Sixty-two of the acres owned by Southwire, based in Carrolton, are within the city limits, with the remainder just outside the city, according to county tax records.

Southwire acquired the wire and cable manufacturing plant and the land surrounding it from General Cable of Highland Heights, Ky., in 2001, according to county tax records.

In January 2009, Southwire began laying off employees of the plant, citing the downtown of the economy, and eventually shuttered the plant.

LAD Truck Lines bought 15.8 acres from Southwire from 2005 to 2010, according to county tax records, and currently has two large buildings on that property.

The remaining Southwire acreage contains two manufacturing buildings and two storage buildings, according to the county tax records.

Kirouac On Capacity

County Administrator Kirouac told me in an email message on Oct. 18 that the county goal in “negotiations” with Watkinsville “would involve carving out a lump capacity allocation (similar to the existing reserve capacity) for their use, which would be determined by their own policy.”

At present, Kirouac noted, “the entirety of Oconee County (both incorporated and unincorporated) are bound by the same requirements of the sewer policy.”

Kirouac said the existing wastewater flows as well as committed capacity “serves as the basis for our negotiations.”

Kirouac provided me with a chart based on the assumption that the county will close its Land Application Site on Rocky Branch Road and depend entirely on the Calls Creek plant with its current capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day for sewage treatment.

The chart shows that 20 percent of the total capacity has been set aside as reserve, and that 30 percent of the remainder has been allocated for residential sewer, 50 percent has been set aside for commercial use, and 20 percent has been allocated for industrial use.

The chart shows that current residential sewer flow (405,800 million gallons per day) exceeds allocated capacity (360,000 million gallons per days).

In addition, the county has committed another 326,300 million gallons per day to residential use that is not currently being utilized.

Committed Residential Capacity

Much of the committed but unused treatment capacity is the result of the settlement of suits filed against the county when it tried to withdraw sewer capacity from two massive master plan developments.

In 2003 the Board of Commissioners approved the Westland subdivision on U.S. 78 at Goat Farm Road near the Apalachee River, and a year later the Board approved the Parkside subdivision, stretching from Mars Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road.

Only Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes from the current Commission was on the Board that approved those developments.

As part of the court settlement, the two subdivisions were reduced slightly in size, to 399 lots in Westland an 776 lots in Parkside.

The two subdivisions also must phase in their request for sewer capacity, Kirouac noted in his email on Oct. 18, and the county has plans to upgrade its Calls Creek Plant to 3 million gallons per day in the future, meaning that the current overcommitment of residential capacity does not reflect fully current demand.

As part of the Westland settlement, some of the sewer capacity from that project was transferred to a residential project in Bogart being developed by Lovett-Keller Ventures LLC. This will provide a single opportunity for residential sewer in Bogart.

Kirouac said that the county is not in discussion with Bogart or either of the county’s other two cities–North High Shoals and Bishop–about sewage treatment.

In an email message on Dec. 3, Kirouac said of the discussions with Watkinville that “We are still in the process of determining the allocation numbers and how ultimate policy is structured. There is no specific time frame for reaching the agreement.”

City Manager And Brunch Bill

At its Nov. 20 meeting, the Watkinsville City Council gave first reading to an ordinance making permanent the position of city manager. (This sentence is corrected from the original, which did not note that the action was only the first reading of the ordinance. Final action was taken at the Dec. 18 meeting.)

Shortly after Mayor Dave Shearon took office two years ago, Council appointed Sharyn Dickerson as city manager, but the position was not made permanent until Council took action last month.

Bob Smith defeated Shearon by two votes in the November election, and the December Council meeting will be Shearon’s last as mayor.

Council at that Nov. 20 meeting also approved a change it its alcohol ordinance to allow the city’s restaurants to sell alcohol beginning at 11 a.m. on Sundays, rather than 12:30 p.m., as was the case before Council took its action.

City voters had approved overwhelmingly this action by Council in the November election.

Restaurants in the county outside Watkinsville cannot serve alcohol on Sunday before 12:30 p.m. since the Board of Commissioners has not put to voters the question of early Sunday sales.

Harris Shoals

Four speakers used the public comment section of the Nov. 20 Watkinsville City Council meeting to voice their opposition to the proposal to put a Miracle League Field and accompanying splash pad in Harris Shoals Park.

Brodrick 11/20/2019

Jane Bath, 2430 Snows Mill Road, in the west of the county, said the four-acre site is inappropriate for the Miracle League Field and splash pad that Extra Special People is proposing.

Vicki Soutar, chair of Oconeewaters and a member of the Harris Shoals Park Advisory Board Executive Committee, complained about the way that Committee has operated.

Nicholas Bath, husband of Jane Bath, said “we love ESP and all they are doing” but the organization should consider locating its facility in a county park rather than at Harris Shoals.

Carolyn Maultsby, 1050 Taylors Drive, off Simonton Bridge Road, inside the city, asked questions about the relationship between the city and ESP.

Soutar, Jane Bath and Maultsby had spoken critically of the ESP proposal at the October meeting of Council.

Lisa Douglas, 4931 Price Mill Road outside Bishop, did not speak, but she provided me with drone shots of the park after that meeting.

Brodrick Response

Council Member Brodrick told Maultsby the city has partnered with ESP in the past, including providing assistance in building the organization’s new facility, which borders Harris Shoals Park.

Brodrick said he didn’t want “to debate the plan” put forward by ESP because “the plan is going to change.”

“A splash pad is probably a bridge too far,” Brodrick said.

“Philosophically, where my heart is–and I cannot speak for the rest of this group–I want to allow the children to touch the water. I want to allow the children to get there without changing the topography.”

“There’s parents and children who drive through that park and drop the children off and they look at it and their heart breaks every day because the child can never access those facilities,” Brodrick said.

Brodrick said some balance between the desires of ESP and of those who want to keep the park as it is now will be necessary.


The first video below is of the Nov. 20 Council meeting.

Discussion of the sewer policy begins at 1:00:45 in the video.

Public comment on Harris Shoals Park begins at 1:52:55 in the video.

The second video includes the drone shots Douglas provided to me.

The first short clip shows the existing ballfield, with the drone approaching the field from Experiment Station Road and the U.S. 441 bypass on the right. The Miracle League Field will be on the site of the existing ballfield.

The second short clip also shows the ballfield and the bypass.

The third clip is of the shoals, moving upstream, and the final clip is from the shoals, moving downstream to the picnic area of the park as it now exists.

The final video is of the Oct. 10 work session of Council on residential sewer that anticipated the vote at the Nov. 20 meeting.


Anonymous said...

So just to be clear, the Watkinsville City Council decides to make the City Manager position permanent AFTER Smith is elected?? Nothing says shady like trying to ram through a major change with "exclusive" authority before the new Mayor arrives.

Dan Magee said...

Bless Your Heart Anon 3:03.

1) Sign your name.

2) It's 2019. Name one well run city in Georgia that doesn't have a city manager. Name one. Gone are the days of autocrats (Melvin Davis?). The most efficient and effective cities in Georgia and nationwide have elected officials who set policy and focus on long term goals and planning, and hire experienced professionals to run day to day operations in various departments, led by a city manager who usually has a Masters in Public Administration and years of experience. Elected officials meddling in day to day operations regularly results in failure, and hasn't been considered a best practice in decades. Go ask the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a unit of the Office of Public Service & Outreach at the University of Georgia, which is just a few miles away. Effective elected officials set policy & goals, and plan long-term. And don't meddle in day to day.

3) Sign your name.

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with the comment above. Seems kinda underhanded in my opinion. Changing the rules in mid stream in southern terms ain’t the right thing to do. I do hope that the citizens that voted for Mr. Smith will attend the upcoming council meeting and make their feelings known.

Anonymous said...

No, Oconee just has an autocrat like John Daniell who will fire any employee that doesn’t go along with his limited skills and confused approach to government.

The city council should be very careful in their decision making in December, it may not be legal come January.

Message: Votes count (both at the ballot box and by elected officials) and can hinder a community for years to come.