Monday, July 20, 2020

Oconee County Commissioners Reject Proposal For Gas Station Entrance Modification And For Small Medical Office Park

***Allow Buffer Variance For Special Events Venue***

William Jones wanted to be allowed to have an entrance to his planned JP convenience store, gas station, and Burger King off Mars Hill Road just before it intersects with U.S. 78.

The Board of Commissioners said no.

John Allen Drew wanted to rezone 4.5 acres at the triangle created by SR 316, Dials Mill Spur and Dials Mill Extension so he could build a medical office business park.

The Board of Commissioners said no.

The Board did allow John Hadden to decrease the buffer between his Damn Good Dawg Farm on Cliff Dawson Road and neighboring residential property so he can hold special events at his blueberry farm.

The Board also granted a variance to waive buffers between office use and commercial use and single family residential use on lots in a 40-acre residential development on Stonebridge Parkway east of Butler’s Crossing.

The Board took these actions at its regular meeting on July 7, which ran for more than two hours and involved the first rezoning hearings held by the Board since it began meeting with limits on public attendance in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic

All three of the commissioners present wore masks, and Commissioner Chuck Horton, recovering from surgery, participated remotely.

Jones Request

When the Board of Commissioners in May of last year approved a rezone for the 32 acres at the northwest corner of Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78, it stipulated that a proposed entrance off Mars Hill Road near the intersection not be allowed.

Commissioners Mark Thompson (Left), Mark Saxon (Right)
With Jones

Jones was allowed an entrance to his property off Mars Hill Road, but via a driveway further back Mars Hill Road, away from the U.S. 78 intersection.

Steven Rowland of Rowland Engineering in Macon told the Board that, in doing engineering for the project, “we came to the conclusion that that driveway would be essential to the operation of the business.”

Rowland also said that RaceTrac across U.S. 78 from the site has an entrance similar to the one denied to Jones.

Jones also spoke and said that everything he has proposed for the site other than the replacement of the current AJ’s “is purely speculative,” so the allowed driveway does not serve the current proposed development well.

Replacing the existing AJ’s, he said, is “our sole interest at this moment in time.”

Jones, from Butts County, said he understood the concern not to have traffic back up on Mars Hill Road at the intersection, but he said he does not think that will be a problem.

The county’s planning staff recommended against the change, and the Planning Commission at the June 15 meeting also opposed the change.

Drew Request

Drew’s request for the conversion of the 4.5 acres from its current agricultural classification to business was opposed by four neighbors who said they would be adversely affected by the development.

Commissioners Mark Thompson (Left), Mark Saxon (Right)
With Drew

Drew, from Barrow County, told the Commission that the property was no longer viable for residential use and that his proposed small office park consisting of two single-story office buildings was the proper use given the location. Total square footage was to be 12,000.

The Oconee County planning staff had recommended denial of the request on the grounds that it is not consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The Planning Commission, at its meeting on June 15, had recommended approval.

John Vogel, 1051 Dials Mill Spur, who lives across from the property, said the lot is large enough for a home site and he wants it to remain residential. Vogel said he had a petition signed by other neighbors also opposed to the project.

Kenneth Reynolds, 1241 Dials Mill Spur, said the site was inadequate for a medical complex and would create traffic problems for the area if developed as proposed.

Hadden Request

Hadden asked the Board of Commissioners for a variance to waive a portion of the required buffer along his 19.2 acres at 1110 Cliff Dawson Road.

The Board of Commissioners turned down a request in 2017 that the property be used as a reception hall, but the Board has passed an agritourism ordinance in May of 2019, and Hadden’s request was to allow him to use an exiting barn on the property for weddings and other events.

The barn extends into the buffer.

The county’s planning staff said the application met all of the necessary conditions for granting of the special exception variance. The Planning Commission does not review variance requests.

Attorney David Ellison represented neighboring Moss Creek home owners opposed to the request, saying that the noise from the barn will travel to those residential properties and be a disturbance.

County Planning and Code Enforcement Director told the Board that Hadden, under the current regulations, could erect a tent on the site that was not within the buffer and hold events with music as long as he did not violate the county’s noise ordinance.

Abe Abouhamdan, from ABE consulting, 2410 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing, representing Hadden, said the noise from the existing building would be muted and would be less likely to travel to the residences than music from a tent.

Stonebridge Request

The Board of Commissioners rezoned the nearly 40-acre tract on Stonebridge Parkway from Office-Institutional-Professional and Business uses to residential use in 2017, with the plan that the project be compatible with the residential development across Stonebridge Parkway.

When the developers submitted plans for the project to the county, problems arose with two lots that did not meet Environmental Health Department requirements based on septic requirements. The residential development will use conventional septic systems.

Jon Williams of W&A Engineering, now located in Athens, representing the developers, told the Board that septic requirements are changing frequently and have changed while the project has been in the planning stage.

Rather than combine the two lots, as the Health Department suggested, Williams requested that the buffer requirement be modified so that part of the acreage can be counted toward the minimum lot standard.

The county Planning staff said the request met the standards for granting of a special exception variance.


Sarah Bell recorded the video below.

Discussion of the Drew request begins at 6:42 in the video.

Discussion of the Jones rezone begins at 54:20 in the video.

Hadden’s request came before the Board at 1:07:02 in the video.

Stonebridge came before the Board at 2:04:05 in the video.

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