Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Watkinsville Council Approves Large Multi-Use Wire Park Project

***Zoning, Annexation, Wastewater Allocation Included***

Watkinsville Mayor and Council last week, in three separate actions, moved the Wire Park project--on just less than 67 acres formerly occupied by the Southwire manufacturing plant on Barnett Shoals Road--closer to reality.

The Council voted in a virtual session to annex just less than six acres outside the city limits into the city, rezone just more than 41 acres for mixed use and office space and a little more than 25 acres for detached residential development, and allocate residential sewer capacity for the project.

In each case, the vote was 5-0. The Mayor does not vote unless there is a tie, but Mayor Bob Smith and the Council were in agreement on the value of this project.

“I think this is one of the best things to happen to Watkinsville in many, many years,” long-time Council Member Brian Brodrick said during discussion of the project.

The meeting was the first since the March 12 session called by Mayor Smith that included a tense exchange between Smith and Brodrick, and the group last week spent more than 30 minutes discussing the minutes of the March 12 and of two other meetings because of objections raised by Smith.

The entire session lasted 4 hours and 30 minutes, not including time at the beginning consumed by everyone getting used to the remote meeting software and procedures.

Because the Council could not complete action on a number of agenda items, Council members called a meeting that will start at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Wire Park Annexation

The Mayor and Council spent almost exactly two hours at the April 22 meeting discussing Wire Park.

Screen Shot From Early In Meeting

Included were two public hearing, one on the rezone request itself and the other on annexation.

Carolyn Maultsby, 1050 Taylors Drive, and Lee Morgan, 68 Jackson Street, spoke in favor of the project during the rezone hearing.

Maultsby asked for additional access to the documents related to the project, and Morgan asked for a guarantee that access will be provided to the public to the green space in the project.

Steve Brown, 1060 Mountain Laurel Drive, just outside the city, also spoke in favor.

No one objected, and only Maultsby spoke during the annexation hearing, again asking for additional access to documents.

Michael Prochaska, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, did speak up in response to Maultsby, telling her that he had published information about the rezone and annexation and telling how to get access to the relevant documents.

Council voted first to approve an annexation request from property owner Duke Gibbs to extend the city boundary lines to include two parcels of 5.5 acres and 0.3 acres, at 1352 Norton Road and Barnett Shoals Road.

City Attorney Joe Reitman said Oconee County had not responded to a notification of the action objecting to the annexation. The land currently is zoned Agriculture 1 by the county and is vacant.

Wire Park Rezone And Wastewater Allocation

Next, the Council voted to rezone the entire 66.6 acre parcel from its zoning classification as Employment Center to Mixed-Use Office and Detached Residential.

The 41 acres rezoned for mixed use and office space includes the former Southwire manufacturing plant, which will be converted to commercial and office space, and the 25 acres for two separate housing developments.

Oconee County has agreed to allocate wastewater treatment capacity for the commercial phase of the development, but the city is required as part of its agreement with the county to use some of its wastewater treatment allocation for the residential phases of the project.

The Council voted to allocate 36,000 gallons per day for that purpose.

The Council earlier in the evening had decided to allocate 15,166 gallons per day to Wisteria Ridge, an upscale town-house project on North Main Street north of Experiment Station Road.

With the two projects, the Council has allocated more than half of the 100,000 granted to the city by the county as part of a recent sewer allocation agreement. City policy has limited residential use of that capacity to 50 percent.

Wire Park Project

The Wire Park project includes single-family detached housing units on both large and small lots, town homes and condominium flats, and an adaptive reuse of the existing wire manufacturing building on the site.

Screen Shot From Discussion Of Wire Park

The central part of the roof of the existing building will be removed to create a pedestrian plaza that will be surrounded by restaurants and retail outlets.

The building also is expected to provide space for light manufacturing, warehousing, offices, and what the developers are calling "makerspaces."

A centerpiece of the design is 1.5-acre public park at the front of the project on Barnett Shoals Road.

Gibbs purchased the 66.6-acre Wire Park property from Southwire on Dec. 13 of last year, according to county tax records.

The property is held under the name Wire Park LLC, which is based at Gibbs Capital LLC headquarters, 1120 Mars Hill Road, just north of Butler's Crossing.

Gibbs lives at 2151 Union Church Road south of New High Shoals Road.

Development Agreement

Disagreement did emerge between Smith and Brodrick over a Development Agreement that was passed as part of the rezone.

Smith asked City Attorney Reitman how the document was prepared. Reitman said mostly by email exchange.

Brodrick interjected and said that when the agreement came before the Council for review “I did weigh in with my opinions and my thoughts.”

Brodrick said Gibbs was concerned that the city did not want vehicle storage as a part of the project. Brodrick said he told Gibbs that Council may be willing to accept no more than 25 percent of the building being for vehicle storage.

Brodrick said he had one phone call with Gibbs.

“We all had a month to weigh in on this document in draft form, and I know that several of us did,” Brodrick said.

Who Is Point Man?

“So Mr. Brodrick, where were you in the decisions?” Smith asked. “It sound to me like you’re making all the decisions or negotiating on part of the town. Is that not correct?”

“That’s not correct,” Brodrick responded. “I told you specifically that I suggested that we could, that we might be willing to look at, we were concerned about the entire building potentially being available for vehicles to be stored in.

“Which I would consider and think most people would agree, that’s not what was shown in the drawing,” Brodrick said. “I don’t think it’s Mr. Gibbs’ intent.

“So as I told you in my email today,” Brodrick continued. “I think the agreement needs to be relatively air tight. If for any reasons he was no longer the owner of that project, we wouldn’t want a secondary owner to come in and be able park a bunch of boat trailers in there.”

“I was offering my perspective as a Council member as to what may be acceptable to a majority of Council members,” Brodrick said.

“Of course its going to be acceptable to the Council,” Smith replied. “You’ve been on this Council for 16 years and you’re the point man for all negotiations. Is that not true Mr. Brodrick?”

“Not true, Sir,” Brodrick replied.

Council Member Christine Tucker told Smith she also had made suggestions about changes in the Development Agreement.


The virtual meeting took place via Ring Central with participants mostly in their homes.

City Manager Sharyn Dickerson recorded the video and provided a copy, which I trimmed of the exchanges that took place in setting up the meeting. I then uploaded the trimmed video to the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.

Discussion of the minutes begins at 10:48 in the video and ended at 44:19.

Discussion of Wire Park begins at 1:40:07 in the video.

Reitman stopped the public hearing at 2:33:36 and turned to the Development Agreement.

Reitman opened the annexation public hearing at 2:58:29 in the video.

Discussion of zoning is at 3:22:05 and is followed by discussion of the Development Agreement.

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