Thursday, January 30, 2020

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of New Up-Scale Retirement Community Near Epps Bridge Parkway

***Developer Says County Underbuilt***

The Oconee County Planning Commission has recommended that the Board of Commissioners approve the rezone request for just under 62 acres between Old Epps Bridge Road and SR Loop 10 for a large retirement community with 398 residential units.

The project, called Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus, will include in Phase 1 two three-story “concierge living” buildings, a three-story assisted living and memory care building, two four-story independent living buildings, and 32 independent living cottages.

Phase 2 will include 86 independent living units that will be sold to interested residents who are 55 years old or older.

The Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus retirement community will be just smaller in land mass than the 70-acre Presbyterian Village Athens under construction on U.S. 441 at Hog Mountain Road northeast of Watkinsville.

The 398 residential units planned for Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus compares with 210 residential units at Presbyterian Village Athens. Not included in that count is a three-story health-services building with memory care units and other facilities.

Armand Vari of Active Senior Concepts of Suwanee, the developer of Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus, said Oconee County “is really underbuilt today” in terms of retirement communities and will be “short in the next 10 years” even when his and other similar projects are completed.

Ken Beall of Beall and Company, representing property owner Ross Developments, described Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus was an “upscale assisted living community” and termed it the “Ritz-Carlton of retirement communities.”

Project Entrances

The 62 acres owned by Ross Development Inc. fronts on Dowdy Road and the Oconee Connector, formerly called Jennings Mill Parkway at that point. Epps Bridge Parkway is northwest of the site.

Beall Before Planning Commission 1/21/2020

Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus proposes to have its main entrance off the Oconee Connector. The developer will extend the Oconee Connector from its current terminus at Home Depot to allow for a 90 degree turn into the Ross property.

The retirement community will have two additional entrances off Dowdy Road to serve as emergency and service entrances.

Dowdy Road intersects with Old Epps Bridge Road and then Epps Bridge Parkway.

No one other than Beall and Vari spoke in favor of the project at the public hearing on Jan. 21, and no one spoke in opposition.

Bill Ross, CEO of Ross Development Inc., 1501 Dials Mill Road in the far west of the county, attended the meeting but did not speak.

Also in attendance was Jamie Boswell, who listed the Ross property and is the area’s representative on the Georgia Transportation Board.

The Planning Commission, following the recommendation of the planning staff, voted unanimously to send the project forward to the Board of Commissioners, which is scheduled to consider the rezone request at its meeting on Tuesday.

Traffic Issues

Planning Commission Member Brian Fosen raised concerns about traffic at the busy intersection of the Oconee Connector and Epps Bridge Parkway.

The project is expected to generate an additional 1,516 average daily trips, including 71 morning and 77 evening peak hour trips, according to the staff report from the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department.

Vari said traffic will not be an issue because residents will spend much of their time with facilities on the campus and when they want to leave they are picked up at the door and taken off campus in a bus.

Fosen asked about the possibility of extending the Oconee Connector across SR Loop 10 to connect with Daniells Bridge Road.

Guy Herring, director of the county’s Planning and Code Enforcement Department, said the flyover of SR Loop 10 at the Oconee Connector is a Georgia Department of Transportation project and the rezone request “doesn’t have any bearing” on the proposed flyover.

Phase 1 Details

Phase 1 of the project is expected to be completed by November of 2022.

Concept Plan Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus
(Click To Enlarge)

Each of the two “concierge living” buildings will be 56,263 square feet in size, and the two will provide a total of 104 residential units.

The assisted living and memory care unit will consist of 76,216 square feet of space and provide 96 residential units.

These three buildings will be connected to a 27,167-square-foot social club with entertainment and dining options.

Just east of this four-building complex are the two independent living buildings, each 51,357 square feet in size. Total residential units for the two buildings is 80.

Further east are the independent living cottages, offering 32 residential units.

The 12,000-square-foot medical office building is south of the main complex.

Phase 1 amenities include a swimming pool, putting green, bocce courts and pavilion overlooking the existing lake on the property. That lake will be retained in the new development.

Phase 2

The second phase of the project “will be market driven,” the developer wrote in the rezone application, “however it is anticipated that building construction will be completed by November of 2024.”

Unlike at Presbyterian Village, where the cottages and villas cannot be purchased, individuals will be able to purchase residential units in this phase of the project.

The 86 residential units in the Phase 2 part of Celebration Village are in 43 duplex buildings.

Units are between 2,400 and 2,800 square feet in size and consist of three bedrooms with two baths and a two-car garage, according to the rezone narrative and Vari’s comments to the Commission.

Residents will have full access to the medical and other facilities of the first phase of the project, the narrative states.

Phase 2 also includes a second swimming pool, a clubhouse and a community park.

Vari said the units will sell for between $350,000 and $450,000 and that the cottages in Phase 1 will rent for from $4,500 to $4,800 per month.

Requested Rezone

Ross is asking that the 62 acres be rezoned from its current agricultural category (AG) to Office Institutional Profession (OIP) for development of the retirement community.

Both Tax Parcels C 02 012 and C 02 012B Are Part Of Rezone
(Click To Enlarge)

Vari told the Commission he has a contract to purchase the property.

A family residence on the site, built in 1965, will be removed, according to the narrative.

The property was used for a wholesale commercial nursery until 2014, the narrative states.

According to that narrative, Ross purchased the 62 acres in 1977 and used it as a wholesale commercial nursery until 2014. At that time, Ross relocated and expanded his business to its current location, 1501 Dials Mill Road .

The property, predominantly wooded, has been available for purchase since 2014, according to the narrative.

The proposed retirement community will use county water and sewer services.

Active Senior Concepts, according to the submitted narrative, has developed three Celebration Villages in Georgia, one in Alabama, and one in Ohio. One of the Georgia communities, in Snellville, is in the construction phase, Vari told the Commission.

Two Other Rezones

The Planning Commission, at its Jan. 21, meeting also unanimously approved two other rezone requests, which will be before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Vishab Brambhatt is asking the county to rezone just less than 8 acres at 2063 Dials Mill Road from AG (Agriculture) to AR (Agriculture Residential) in order to allow a subdivision of the property into three residential lots.

Brambhatt, who lives in Athens, proposes to create two 3-acre lots and one 2.78 acre lots for residential use.

Meredith and Patrick Metcalf, 1191 Evans Road, off Union Church Road, are asked the county to allow them to cut a 3.3 acre parcel from a larger 11-acre property so they can create an additional residential lot.

The specific request is to rezone the 3.3 acres, now classified at AG (Agricultural), to AR-3 (Agricultural Residential Three Acre Lot). The remaining acreage would remain classified as AG.

The Board of Commissioners is set to meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.


The video below is of the meeting of the Planning Commission on Jan. 21.

Discussion of the Ross rezone begins at 1:50 in the video.

Addendum 1/30/2020

In the video, Beall mentions the DRI review for the project. DRI stands for Development of Regional Impact, and this is a required review by planners at the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.

Beall said that no comments were received from affected parties.

I could not find any record of this report. Late yesterday morning, I sent an email to Herring asking him if he could provide me with a copy of the DRI. I did not receive a reply, and I don’t know if he received the message.

Today I called NEGRC and talked with Project Specialist Stephen Jaques. He told me that the DRI no longer contains a statement of findings, as had been the case in the past.

He said he would send me a copy of the report, and he did.

That report, as Beall stated, said no comments were received from affected parties.

DRI Observations On Walking

The report had several observations that were not discussed at the planning Commission.

“The proposed development extends the Oconee Connector and provides a sidewalk from the Connector to the property, but a gap between the new sidewalk and the shopping centers along the Oconee Connector will be formed,” the report states.

“Without addressing this gap, it will be impossible for residents to access other destinations without driving. Closing this sidewalk gap and ensuring that automobiles are traveling at safe speeds along the street is essential if residents are to have transportation options consistent with local (and regional) plans.”

“Approximately 1,516 new daily vehicular trips will be generated by the new development. Of these, approximately 46 entering and 25 exiting during the weekday morning peak hour and 30 entering and 47 exiting during the weekday evening peak hour are expected,” the report states.

DRI Observations On Cars

“The developer plans to extend the Oconee Connector approximately 200 feet and construct the main entrance to the development off this extension,” the report continues. “Two more entrances will be constructed along Dowdy Road. Aside from these entrances, the study found that no additional infrastructure will be necessary.

“The design of the site is automobile-centric and residents will have little option but to drive if they wish to visit other destinations,” according to the DRI report. “This may pose accessibility problems as well difficulties with social connection to the wider community for a population that may have a reduced ability to drive.

“An estimated 499 parking spaces will be constructed. This is in excess of required parking minimums and reinforces the auto-centric nature of the project while increasing stormwater runoff.

“A reduction in the number of parking spaces to the parking minimums for the associated uses is recommended,” the report states.

(I added an aerial view from the county's rezone documents with this addendum to better illustrate the issues discussed in the DRI and at the Planning Commission meeting.)


7thgen said...

you need to at least double the traffic count as they are always drastically underrated. Not one mention of the cost to the tax payers in terms of county services. And once again a out of town developer who could care less what impact it has on the current residents of the county.

Anonymous said...

Without a hint of irony.

Appreciate at least one Planning Commission member asking about additional traffic:
"Planning Commission Member Brian Fosen raised concerns about traffic at the busy intersection of the Oconee Connector and Epps Bridge Parkway." Thanks Brian Fosen for stepping up and addressing the proverbial elephant in the room.

And the answer is:
"The project is expected to generate an additional 1,516 average daily trips, including 71 morning and 77 evening peak hour trips, according to the staff report from the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department. "

So 1500+ trips per day in the already overcrowded Epps Bridge area, and the realtor for the project, sitting quietly at the meeting: Mr. Jamie Boswell, the area’s representative on the Georgia Transportation Board,

Nothing to see here. No conflicts of interest.

It's the year 2020, and the state representatives and state senators still vote for State Transportation Board members by secret ballot. There's no online or paper application to apply. Just got to know the right politician who'll nominate you. Both political parties have been doing this for decades, and see nothing wrong with the void of transparency.

1500+ plus trips a day at Epps Bridge. Boswell siting at the Planing Commission meeting without saying a word.

Without a hint of irony.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the county would for one second allow ANY more traffic congestion at Epps Bridge Parkway (EBP) and Oconee Connector (OC) intersection!

Yes, I live here, drive here, shop here, and I absolutely protest this additional 1500+ cars on this road without the county first addressing and fixing the congestion problem in this area, or completely diverting this community's traffic elsewhere.

Getting out of Kroger/Home Depot and Trader Jo's exits onto OC are so treacherous as it is, especially on weekends and during holidays, any more cars in that area would make it extremely difficult to get onto OC. Then, once on OC, waiting at the light to get onto EBP causes HORRIBLE bottle necks.

Hey road planners, here are things to consider to improve this area immediately: (1) Build an access road into Epps Bridge Shopping Center right next to Cheddars, right across from the loop 10 exit. That way, folks going to the new shopping/dining area from the loop or from EBP don't even have to go through the light at EBP/OC to get there. (2) Enlarge the left turn lane from EBP onto OC by removing all the concrete in the median. Then those that are waiting at the OC light to turn left to go to Lowe's or to the Epps Bridge Center don't block the left lane of thru traffic.

Anonymous said...

Good comments. May I add to the conversation the following. It was stated in video 120+. people would be employees and over a million in tax revenue. Services should be covered with those dollars. The expansion at 316 will continue. The comments by Anonymous 12:02 are interesting and worth noting. However, GDOT rules the road designs.

Our County “rulers” will not listen to common sense comments by taxpayers. Daniell, with strong connections to Boswell, will make transportation decisions based on political connections. I would refrain from complaining about these questionable characters- you put people in office that opened the doors to them.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, Did not the County just increase the sewer capacity in this area at great cost and angered many along its path recently. I think this development should be billed accordingly. Trafficwise, This will have a very negative impact on traffic. No mention was made about the people coming to visit/service this community. I believe the traffic projections are greatly underreported. Perhaps if the Development would put up a $25 million bond that would act as a guarantee that their traffic numbers where good. If after construction was completed and the Development was sold out; if the traffic count was at or below their projection, the money for the bond would be returned. It still means adding 1500+ trips to already overburden intersections. I'm betting the number is bogus but the county will have $25 million to work on the problem. I further bet the Development will be vocal about these added costs. I have no other problem with the development but they need to mitigate their impact.

John D said...

In reply to Anonymous, posting at 12:02 pm:

An access road right across from the loop 10 exit is inconsistent with GADOT's plans for the area. They own that odd shaped land that makes it look like at some point they will do a full diamond interchange there.

Earl McCorkle said...

They fly over loop 10 off Danielsville Road would have solve a lot of problems about traffic overload due to construction and every living.

Earl McCorkle said...

The fly over is a necessary evil that has to happen as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that flyover was voted down.
Complaints and lack of forward thinking are starting to catch up.

Anonymous said...

Before fixing 316? Before 15 bypass of Watkinsville? Before highway 53 at Publix and UNG? Before intersections with daily wrecks? Lots of important projects other than a former chairman's attempt to help developers. Not sure how flyover can jump over all the other problems we face.

Lee Becker said...

I just deleted--rather than publish--an anonymous post that attacks Commission Chair John Daniell in response to this post. We are in an election season. Daniell has declared his intention to seek re-election. I think anyone who wants to attack any of the candidates at this point needs to use his or her name with the comment.

Anonymous said...

Glad you have announced your position as part of the campaign staff to re-elect John Daniell. Will keep this in mind when reading any future posts. In the past, you never refrained from writing your displeasure about past chairman or other politicians.

Lee Becker said...

Dear Anoynmous 11:04 a.m.

I only have asked that you sign your name. You have, or someone with a similar perspective has, written critically about Daniell repeatedly in comments that I have published. I have asked in the past that you sign your name. I am asking again.



Anonymous said...

Over the years many readers have commented about the Commission and its lack of direction and questionable spending and policies. If you are writing about the government expect comments about the present set of dubious politicians. A signature won’t change a politicians disconcerting actions.

Earl McCorkle said...

I hope a walifed person will run for county commission chairman. I really miss Davis.