The Mayor and Town Council of Bishop bypassed the Oconee County planning staff and the county Planning Commission when it rezoned property for a Dollar General earlier this month.
“Dollar General was going to walk away,” Bishop Mayor Johnny Pritchett said in explaining that action.
The city has had an agreement with the county since 1991 calling for the county planning staff to administer its zoning laws and has had a seat on the county Planning Commission since 1982.
The city’s zoning law, however, does not mandate that the Mayor and Council consult the county planning staff on a rezone or submit to a review by the Planning Commission.
City Attorney Joseph Reitman told the Mayor and Council they did have to send the rezone request to the county staff and the Planning Commission, Pritchett said, and the Mayor and Council decided to follow Reitman’s advice.
Pritchett said he would not commit to involving the county in future zoning, leaving only North High Shoals and Bogart among the county’s four cities following that process. Watkinsville has handled its own zoning since 2007.
Annexation And Rezone Approved
The rezone approved by the Bishop Mayor and Council in a 3 to 1 vote on April 12 also involved the annexation of just under 30 acres previously zoned for agriculture and designated in the county’s Land Use Map as for low density residential use.
|Sign On High Shoals Road Announcing Public Hearing|
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The action of the Council coverts just more than two of those 30 acres for business use, but land owner Reids Ferry LLC of Madison has said it plans to develop an additional 4.4 acres “at a future date.”
Ezekiel R. Lambert III is listed as manager of Reids Ferry LLC.
Reids Ferry LLC and Teramore Development LLC of Thomasville submitted combined documents asking for the annexation and the rezoning of the 30 acres that lie between downtown Bishop and High Shoals Road.
Teramore Development, a preferred developer for Dollar General, submitted a concept plan showing an 8,960-square-foot, single-story building with a pitched roof facing a driveway off High Shoals Road, the only entrance to the property.
The building is surrounded on two-sides by 45 parking spaces.
The convenience store will have water from a county line on High Shoals Road and will be on its own septic system.
The plans show the driveway extending south from the proposed building to currently undeveloped land.
Annexation And Rezone
Under normal procedures, Bishop, North High Shoals, and Bogart submit their rezone application documents to the county planning staff, which writes a report based on the city’s zoning laws and makes a recommendation for action.
The staff report is then reviewed by the County Planning Commission, which includes a representative of each of those three cities as well as eight citizen members appointed by the Board of Commissioners.
Bruce MacPherson is the Bishop representative on the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission then makes a recommendation to the city governing bodies for final action.
As required by Georgia law, Reitman, on behalf of Bishop informed the Board of Commissioners on March 2 that the city had received a petition for annexation of the land previously outside the city into the city.
Reitman, of Lambert, Reitman and Abney legal firm in Madison, also included the application for a zoning change by Teramore Development LLC.
The county was not asked to review the submitted materials, and the issue never came before the county Planning Commission.
Reids Ferry purchased the 34-acre tract running from the northern border of the city to High Shoals Road in June of 2009 for $400,000, according to county tax records.
Four of those acres were inside the city, and the remaining 30 of those acres were outside the city limits and were the subject of the rezone petition.
All of the land was zoned A-1 for agricultural use, including the four acres already inside the city limits.
The petition by Reids Ferry and Teramore was to rezone just a little more than two acres from the 30 acres outside the city to B-1 for business use for the Dollar General.
The remainder of the land was to remain zoned for agriculture, though the petition said that an additional 4.4 acres will be developed in the future subject to a decision by the Mayor and Council.
Teramore, according to its web site, had developed more than 300 sites for Dollar General stores.
Land Use Map
In the narrative to the rezone request, Taramore acknowledges that the request does not match the "Country Estates designation for this property on the 2040 Character Area Map for Bishop.”
|Town Of Bishop Character Map With Labels|
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The Character Area Maps for each of the county’s four cities and well as a Character Area Map for the unincorporated parts of the county are part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan approved by the cities and county in 2018.
The entire 34-acres purchased by Reids Ferry in 2009 were designated as part of the Country Estates character area in both the city’s and the county’s land use maps.
The Country Estates character area is defined in that document as “A low-intensity residential community reminiscent of a rural environment.
“Areas within this Character Area are lands that are undeveloped but rarely or no longer in agricultural production or have been developed as “estate farms” or large-lot subdivisions.
“This Character Area provides a transition between the more rural areas of the county and traditional suburban residential development and provides an ‘edge’ between the urban and rural fringe.”
The Taramore application notes that the Golden Pantry at the corner of High Shoals and U.S. 441 is zoned for business. That convenience store was demolished following a fire and is scheduled for reconstruction.
The annexed Reids Ferry property is separated from U.S. 441 by a small half-acre triangle that also is zoned for agriculture, falls only partially within the current city limits, and is owned by a group in Lawrenceville.
That Lawrenceville group also owns 22 acres of farmland on the east side of U.S. 441 opposite the High Shoals Road intersection.
The concept plan for the Dollar General shows the septic drain fields and a green buffer between the store and the triangular half-acre parcel.
“Well, I really wanted it to go before the Planning Commission, but it was going to be three to six months down the road,” Pritchett told me in a telephone conversation on April 21.
“We had been working with them for over a year and a half,” he said. “They come and talked to us. We didn’t go talk to them. The owner and Dollar General.”
“A lot of us thought it was a pretty good thing–where it was going to be located,” Pritchett said. “So, our attorney got involved. He knew what the law was. What you had to do. He followed the guidelines. And we went ahead and did it.”
“It’s going to be a nice Dollar General,” Pritchett said. “It sits back off the road, off (SR) 186. It won’t be that visible from the road. It is going to be nice as far as Dollar Generals go.
“I know it drummed up some opposition,” Pritchett said, “but there’s a lot of folks in favor of a Dollar General down in this end of the county. I promise you that because I heard from a bunch of people.”
Pritchett said he expects the Dollar General will generated $80,000 per year in sales tax revenue for the city plus additional property tax.
The annexation is the first since the city was first incorporated in 1890, Pritchett said, and he said he did not anticipate future annexations.
Pritchett would not predict what would happen with future rezone requests.
“I’d rather have another set of eyes looking at it,” Pritchett said. “I don’t have a thing in the world against the Planning Commission. It was too slow. I was told we might lose it. Some of us didn’t want to lose it.”
Council Member Chuck Hadden, who lives in the Townside subdivision, which is partially inside the Bishop city limits and abuts the annexed property, cast the single no vote at the meeting on April 12.
Planning Commission Role
Oconee County created a Planning Commission in 1964 and then re-established it via a resolution in 1982.
The resolution of the Board of Commissioners in 1982 said it was responding to the “need for a Municipal-County Planning Commission to assist in guiding and accomplishing a coordinated and harmonious development of the County.”
That resolution created a 12-member Commission, with each of the county’s four cities designating a member to join with the eight appointed by the Board of Commissioner.
At present, Watkinsville does not have a representative.
Former Watkinsville Mayor Dave Shearon, in early 2020, sent George Rodrigues, the city’s appointee to the Commission, a letter saying the city would no longer have a representative on the Commission since the city handles its own zoning.
When Mayor Bob Smith took office, he appointed Jonathan Kirkpatrick to the Planning Commission, and the Council approved that appointment.
Justin Kirouac, County administrator, said in an email message on April 22, that the Watkinsville seat remains unfilled.
“In order to fill the seat, they are supposed to participate in the process (i.e., send their rezoning applications through the Planning Commission),” Kirouac said. “I'm unsure what they decided on this last year, but the seat is still open.”