At the request of the property owner, Oconee County has postponed the public hearing scheduled for Monday on the proposal for a major shopping center at the corner of the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road.
Deferred Tax LLC of Lawrenceville, which owns the 47-acres being proposed for development, asked the county to postpone the Planning Commission meeting originally scheduled for Monday until Jan. 19, and the final vote of the Board of Commissioners until Feb. 2.
Deferred Tax LLC requested the delays following the publication of the Oconee County planning staff report on Monday, the release of the Development of Regional Impact Report of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission on Wednesday, and the emergence of a group of citizens opposing the project.
The county planning staff recommended approval of the requested rezone for the project, but only under the condition that the main entrance off the Oconee Connector and other entrances off Mars Hill Road be radically modified.
The Northeast Georgia Regional Commission was more harsh, saying the developer’s proposal to pave and build over the tributary to Barber Creek that runs through the property “is wildly inconsistent” with the intent of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and that the project risks “degrading” SR 316.
As of 5 p.m. on Saturday, a group calling itself Mars Hill Responsible Development reported having just fewer than 350 signatures on a petition opposing the project.
Sembler Corporation of Florida, the developer of the proposed shopping center, has received federal and state permits for dredging and filling the tributary to Barber Creek that runs through the property, but it still needs a variance to encroach on those waters, and the state will accept public comment on that request through Dec. 23.
Oconee County director of Planning and Code Enforcement sent out an email to Planning Commission members late on Thursday saying that Deferred Tax LLC “has requested that their case be postponed from December 14th to January 19th to provide more time to prepare for the Planning Commission meeting.”
|Updated Sign On Mars Hill Road|
Herring told the member of the Planning Commission that “Staff does not oppose this postponement and will address this administratively and notify all interested parties.”
Herring said the county would re-advertise for the case to be heard at the Jan. 19 Planning Commission meeting and the Feb. 2 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, which will make the final decision. The Planning Commission only makes recommendations to the commissioners.
Staff began changing the signage around the site notifying the public of the hearings late on Friday afternoon.
Because of the scope of the project, a review by the planning staff of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission is required. The resultant Development of Regional Impact Report, however, is only advisory to the county.
The NEGRC review focuses on the impact of the development on the unnamed tributary and on traffic.
“Any development plan for this site should seek to preserve this stream as much as possible,” the report states. “For example, the stream could be preserved as greenspace or usable parkland with trails and footbridges.”
“The NEGRC recommends that the buildings be clustered along a walkable main street or organized around a central square of parkland that would protect the stream and provide some walkability and a sense of place within the site,” the report continues.
NEGRC noted that the developers project 984 new AM Peak Hour trips, 1051 PM Peak Hour trips, and 13,430 new trips per day overall upon project completion.
“Adding this many local trips next to a regional road like GA-316 risks degrading the performance of GA-316 as an efficient, high-speed connection between Athens and Atlanta,” the DRI Report states.
“Adding congestion-inducing local trips to this regional artery is not recommended,” the planners write.
“Before approving this project, the County should measure the life cycle costs of the infrastructure necessary to serve this project to ensure that they would not be committing to more maintenance expenses than the new tax revenue can cover,” the report states.
Deferred Tax LLC is asking for a rezone of three parcels totaling just less than 47 acres that would include a grocery store, a gas station with convenience store, and a bank in its initial phase.
|From Staff Report|
In a second phase, the project concept plan shows restaurants, hotels, retail outlets, and an auto dealership.
The planning staff, in its staff report, recommended approval of the project, but it lists 20 suggested conditions.
The staff report said that the main entranceway on the Connector “shall be restricted to right-in right-out only, and a southbound dedicated right turn lane into the development shall be installed.” Southbound refers to flow from SR 316 to the direction of Watkinsville.
The five entrances along Mars Hill Road “shall be reduced to two full-access entrances and one right-in right-out entrance,” the staff recommends.
The planning staff also set as a proposed condition that “An internal sidewalk network shall connect all uses within the development to sidewalks along Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road.
“Pedestrian connectivity shall be provided throughout the development, including raised decorative crosswalks,” the report continues.
A frequent criticism voiced during deliberations over the 2018 Comprehensive Plan was the lack of pedestrian connection in Epps Bridge Center. The Northeast Georgia Regional Commission wrote that Comprehensive Plan under contract with the county.
Though Deferred Tax is seeking the rezone, Sembler Corporation, a shopping center developer out of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the actual developer of the project and is serving as an agent for Publix Supermarkets Inc., based in Lakeland, Fla., which is seeking the federal and state water permits.
Publix is not mentioned in the rezone application but is the anchor in many Sembler shopping centers, according to the company’s web site.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a provisional 404 permit on July 31 to Publix Supermarkets Inc. and the Sembler Corporation to dredge and fill the tributary of Barber Creek that flows through the property.
That permit was conditional on the Georgia Environmental Protection Divison granting a 401 permit, which the Georgia Environmental Protection Division granted on Nov. 4 to Sembler “as Agent for Publix Supermarkets Inc.” for its “Publix Shopping Center project.”
The Georgia Environment Protection Division issued a notice on Nov. 20 that Publix, with Sembler as agent, has requested a required variance from the Watershed Protection Division to encroach within the 25-foot state water buffer for the stream.
“This project will consist of rerouting a portion of an existing creek through a piping system followed by water treatment ponds,” the notice states. “The ponds will intercept the stormwater runoff from greater than the first 1.2" of rainfall and reduce more than 80 percent of average annual post-development total suspended solids (TSS) loadings,” according to the notice.
Comments can be sent to: Program Manager, NonPoint Source Program, Erosion and Sedimentation Control, 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW, Suite 1462 East, Atlanta, GA 30334, according to the notice.
Those commenting should reference Control Number BV-108-20-02 and the project name Oconee Connector Multi-Use Development, according to the notice.
Residents of Bond Crossing subdivision started the group Mars Hill Responsible Development and created the petition to oppose the rezone request.
The subdivision lies along DaAndra Drive, which would be opposite one of the proposed entrances to the shopping center.
Jennifer Walker, 1201 DaAndra Drive, is serving as the contact person.
One of the organizers, Ian Taylor, 1331 DaAndra Drive, told me in an email message just after 5 p.m. on Saturday that 348 persons have signed the petition.
“Comments on the petition fall mainly into three broad concerns,” he stated. “Adverse impact on traffic, unused retail space already in the county, and concern of overdevelopment.”