The property owner seeking to build a shopping center on the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road has requested a deferral of the public hearing on its rezone request scheduled before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 2.
Deferred Tax LLC of Lawrenceville said it needs time to respond to comments from Tuesday’s Oconee County Planning Commission meeting.
The Planning Commission voted 8 to 0 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners deny the rezone request from Deferred Tax LLC for just less than 47 acres at the corner of Mars Hill Road and the Oconee Connector for a shopping center that would include a Publix.
William C. Berryman Jr. of Athens, who represents Maxie Price, the principal of Deferred Tax, in the rezone, sent the request for the deferral by email to Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell at 3:40 p.m. on Friday.
Daniell said in an email message at just after 5 p.m. on Friday that, consistent with the county’s Unified Development Code, “we will discuss and consider the deferral request at our meeting next week." The Commission has an agenda-setting meeting on Tuesday.
“If approved, we will re-advertise at the expense of the applicant,” Daniell wrote. “If the request is denied, the hearing will proceed as scheduled for Feb 2nd.”
The Board of Commissioners typically votes on the rezone request at the end of the public hearing.
Deferred Tax also had requested and been granted a postponement of the meeting of the Planning Commission, originally scheduled for Dec. 14, saying at that time it needed more time to prepare for the Planning Commission meeting.
Letter From Berryman
Berryman’s single-paragraph letter gives no indication of the nature of the response it is preparing.
Berryman attended the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday but did not speak.
Also is attendance were Price and Jamie Boswell, but neither of them spoke as well.
Jamie Boswell, who is listing the Deferred Tax property through the company that bears his name, also is this area’s (Congressional District 10's) representative on the state Transportation Board, which oversees the Georgia Department of Transportation.
At the meeting on Tuesday, Kevin Letch, senior development manager for the Sembler Company of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Abdul K. Amer, of A&R Engineering Inc. of Marietta, representing Deferred Tax, used up all of the allotted 20 minutes of time in their initial presentation.
It is usual for applicants to save time to rebut the comments of opponents, but Letch and Amer did not do so, and Commission Chair Brad Tucker closed the public hearing once a group of citizens, all in opposition, spoke and used up its allotted 20 minutes.
The December request for a postponement of the Planning Commission Public hearing followed negative comments from the Oconee County planning staff and from the planning staff of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission regarding the rezone request.
Entrances At Issue
Much of the criticism in both of the planning reports focused on the traffic to be caused by the shopping center and the impact of the development on both the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road.
Of particular concern at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday night was the proposed entrance to the shopping center off the Oconee Connector.
Letch and Amer said they need a full entrance with a median cut and traffic signal to handle the traffic, including heavy trucks for the grocery and a proposed new car lot.
The Oconee County planning staff recommended against that entrance, saying the county should only allow a right-in, right-out entrance off the Oconee Connector.
At present, the property has no allowed entrance off the Oconee Connector, and engineers had rejected a request for such an entrance when the Connector was widened and redesigned as part of the Mars Hill Road widening project, which extended from SR 316 to Butler’s Crossing.
Prior to the meeting on Tuesday, the Oconee County planning staff had sent to the Planning Commission a letter from Jason Dykes, Georgia Department of Transportation District traffic engineer, who said his project team had reviewed the plans for the proposed development by Sembler on behalf of Maxie Price.
Dykes said the existing median break will be eliminated when the Connector is redesigned to fly over SR 316 so it could not be used for a full intersection with a traffic light.
While typically the right-in, right-out entrance would not be considered appropriate, it would be allowed in this case, Dykes wrote.
He gave no explanation for the decision to allow the limited access for the shopping center.
Herring told the Planning Commission that there had been a number of exchanges with GDOT personnel and that the county also had hired a consultant to help it assess the project.
In an email message on Thursday, Herring identified the consultant as TranSystems engineering consulting firm in Atlanta.
“They have and will continue to review the applicants submittal on the County's behalf and assist with recommendations,” Herring wrote.
Oconee County Commission Chair Daniell sent me and Michael Prochaska, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, a copy of the letter from Berryman late on Friday along with his explanation of the options open to the Commission when it meets on Feb. 2.