Monday, January 11, 2021

Oconee County Library Board To Hear About Competing Proposals For New Library Site

***Board Meets Monday At Civic Center***

Representatives of the Watkinsville City Council and the Oconee County Board of Commissioners are scheduled to make separate presentations to the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees at its 4:30 p.m. meeting on Monday on competing sites for a new Oconee County Library.

The Library Board voted in July of 2019 to move the Oconee County Library from its current location at 1080 Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville to the planned new county administrative building at the intersection of U.S. 441 and SR 15 (North Main Street).

At the meeting of the Watkinsville City Council on Nov. 18, however, Watkinsville Council Member Brian Brodrick presented a proposal to move the library instead to Wire Park, a mixed use project being developed by Duke Gibbs on the former Southwire property on Barnett Shoals Road.

Brodrick and Council Member Christine Tucker have agreed to represent the city in the presentation to the Library Board on Monday. Gibbs also will be part of the team.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac said late on Friday afternoon that either he or Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell will represent the county at the meeting.

The Library Board is meeting at the Oconee County Civic Center Banquet Room, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing.

Library Expansion

The state has offered $1.9 million in state funding for expansion of the Watkinsville Library.

Brodrick (Right, Speaking)

The county was required to commit at least $1.1 million to the expansion to receive the state funds.

The Board of Commissioners decided in June of 2019 to purchase 7.63 acres at the intersection of U.S. 441 and SR 15 for $650,000 for a county administrative building that also houses a new library. The site also has space for a separate building for a future library.

The money for the purchase of the property came from the unspent portions of the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

The state grant and the matching funds would provide partial funding for the administrative building that also would house the library.

Wire Park

Gibbs purchased the nearly 67-acres Southwire property in late 2019 and has presented plans that include 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.

The central part of the roof of the 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, and offices and what the developers are calling "makerspaces.”

At the Nov. 18 Council meeting, Brodrick said Gibbs is offering financial support to the Library for any agreement to lease the facility.

The county owns the property on which the current library sits.

The Library Board has 12 members appointed by the Board of Commissioners, the cities of Watkinsville and Bogart, and the Oconee County and Bogart libraries.

The Oconee County Library and the Bogart Library are part of the Athens Regional Library System.

Broader Vision

The desire to keep the library, as well as county administrative offices, in downtown Watkinsville frequently has been voiced by Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith.

Smith is quoted in a front-page story in the Friday edition of the Athens Banner-Herald criticizing county officials for wasting taxpayer money by building a new administrative building.

The county Board of Commissioners is required to keep judicial functions inside the county seat, but it is not required to keep administrative offices in the city.

The purchased property is at the very edge of the city, and county officials have said they expect the city to annex the property.

Watkinsville has a population of 2,911, according to a 2018 projection of the 2010 Census, or only about 7 percent of Oconee County’s population of 40,280, based on a 2019 projection.

(The Watkinsville postal address is spread throughout the county, but it has nothing to do with city boundaries.)

In the year he has been mayor, Smith has advocated for the city developing its own water and sewer services and often speaks nostalgically about the Watkinsville of his youth, when the county seat was dominant in the county.

Almost all of the development in the last 30 years has been outside city limits, and the county, not the city, is the sole government provider of water and sewer services, including to Watkinsville residents.


Michael Prochaska said...

Lee, while it's true that a lot of development has occured outside the city limits, the Watkinsville Industrial Park is the only such successful industrial park in the county. One could argue that economic development has thrived in Watkinsville but has been relatively unsuccessful at the Gateway site maintained by the county IDA.

Michael Prochaska said...
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