Monday, May 24, 2021

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends Use Of Shipping Container Shells For Outdoor Food And Retail Court

***Concerned About Lack Of Pedestrian Access To Site***

The Oconee County Planning Commission took quick action at its meeting on Monday night on a request by John and Brittany Wardlow that they be given permission to use a barn on their property on Osborne Road to house equipment from their septic cleaning service.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of Wardlow’s request, as well as a request by Tyler McClure that property he owns on Moreland Heights Drive just outside Watkinsville be rezoned for an assisted living facility and general office building.

The Commission deliberated only briefly on that request as well.

In a split vote, and after more than 30 minutes of discussion, the Commission also recommended that Andy Barrs be allowed to use converted shipping containers as food and retail stalls at a community play area he is proposing to build on Hog Mountain Road.

The county planning staff had recommended against Barrs’ request because county code requires that all nonresidential buildings be constructed on site.

Only a small part of the discussion by the Planning Commission dealt with that issue, with more concern expressed about traffic and the lack of pedestrian access to the site, just east of Butler’s Crossing.

The Board of Commissioners will take up the requests by the Wardlows, McClure, and Barrs at its meeting on June 1, as well as requests by Barrs that the county waive a requirement that he buffer his community park from neighboring residential property.

The Planning staff reported unfavorably on that request as well, which was, following normal procedures, not considered by the Planning Commission.

Community Park Request

Barrs purchased 2.4 acres of undeveloped land behind two commercial buildings on Hog Mountain Road in 2019 that he wants to develop into a community park with a play field, pavilion, and up to five prefabricated buildings.

Signs In Front of 1973 Hog Mountain Road

Access to the property would be via a driveway between two existing buildings.

In 2016 Barrs purchased the building at 1973 Hog Mountain Road that currently has The Picnic Basket and Let’s Glow Tanning and Beauty Bar as tenants.

Barrs told the Planning Commission he soon will own the building at 1971 Hog Mountain Road that houses Creed Fitness Center.

That building currently is owned by Duke Gibbs under the name Hog Mountain Investments LLC.

All three of the properties already are zoned B-2 for Highway Business.

Barrs is asking the county to set side its requirement that commercial buildings be constructed on site.

He will need a special use approval from the Board of Commissioners to be allowed to use prefabricated buildings delivered to the site.

Origin of Proposal

Barrs told the Commission that the pandemic made him realize the importance of having a space for children to play outdoors.

Representative Architecture

“It’s going to be for family, food, and fun,” Barrs said of his proposed project.

He said the use of the prefabricated structures will be “more architecturally pleasing” than the traditional building and “the architectural product will have a huge bearing on the success of this footprint.”

The concept plan shows five metal buildings–the shells of shipping containers–that would be brought to the site to house retail and food service facilities.

One of those is labeled a “coffee/ice cream shop” and another is labeled “Chick Fil-A”.

Frank Pittman of Pittman Engineering, representing Barrs, said Chick Fil-A had located a food service truck on the site in recent months that had been well received and “is on board to come into one of these buildings.”

Three of the buildings are labeled retail, and two of them are designated as having rooftop decks.

The site plan also shows a pavilion, a “recreation/sports field,” “bocce,” “horse shoes,” “fire ring/cornhole,” and restrooms.

The five modular buildings would range from 200 square feet to 1,200 square feet. The pavilion would be 800 square feet in size.

Citizen, Commission Discussion

Carole Bridges, who lives across from the Barrs properties on Hog Mountain Road, spoke in opposition to the proposal saying it would create more traffic and noise. She also said parking was inadequate.

Representative Architecture

“That looks like a carnival to me,” she said of the proposal.

Jeff Faulkner from off Welbrook Road also said the site lacked sufficient parking.

“I was looking at the representative architecture,” Planning Commission Member Scott Green said when the public hearing had ended. “Several of these examples look like they are storage shipping containers. Is that what we are looking at for this location?”

“That is correct,” Barr said. “These are shipping containers.”

“I am very impressed with the concept and the metal buildings you are talking about is a new trend in the food service industry,” Planning Commission Member Mike Floyd said.

“I am concerned about the parking and traffic. But I think this would be plus for Oconee County,” he continued. “Something different for the community. It is just that in reality in my opinion the location of it probably isn’t the best.”


“I like the concept of this and the idea of this,” Member Karen Hilyard said. “It feels to me like these developments in other places are typically in a place that is far more walkable than this area.”

“That intersection is really a nightmare already,” she said. “The fact that there aren’t a lot of sidewalks and ways for the neighborhoods even in the area even to access this I think is a real downside.”

“I do echo Karen’s comments that the modular building concept is trendy,” Member Steven Strickland said. “It has its place somewhere. I am not sure geographically that this is the right location. I would like to see it somewhere in Oconee County.”

“This is about as walkable as Oconee currently gets,” Planning Commission Member Chuck Hunt responded.

Barrs would not answer Hilyard's question as to whether he would build the park without permission to use the shipping containers.

In the end, only Commission Members Nathan Byrd and Gavin Jordan voted to recommend against the request, with seven Commission members voting to recommend approval to the Board of Commissioners.

Special Exception Variance

Hilyard noted that the development does abut residential property to the rear, and planning staff told her that the Board of Commissioners will address that when it considers a special exemption variance on June 1.

The Planning Commission does not consider variances.

The two properties that Barrs owns were rezoned from agricultural use to B-2 use in 1972, and, according to the staff report, no concept plan is on file for that earlier rezone and no conditions were placed on use with the B-2 classification.

Entrance To Village At Stonebridge

The 2.4 acre parcel that Barrs wants to convert to his community park abuts at the rear a 33-acre parcel that is zoned R-1 and is being developed as Village at Stonebridge.

The bulk of the property was rezoned from agricultural use to the Office-Institution-Professional Planned Unit Development classification in 1996 for a retirement community, which was never built.

In June of 2017, the Board of Commissioners downzoned the property for a 35-lot single-family residential subdivision.

The downzoning resulted in the requirement that Barrs have a 50-foot buffer along the rear of his property.

Barrs is asking the Commission to remove that requirement, saying the downzoning “has caused substantial damage to the subject property owner by taking away 0.55 acres of developable commercial property...which is 23 percent of the entire tract.”

“The request is that the now required 50 foot buffer be varied to the original 0 foot buffer that was in place when the owner purchased the property and that the property owner not be damaged by decisions and actions of the adjacent property owner.”

The county planning staff has advised the Board of Commissioners that “this request does not meet all necessary conditions to grant a special exception variance.”

Hog Mountain Road Improvements

The concept plan for the Village at Stonebridge submitted with the rezone in 2017 shows four lots touching Barrs’ property.

Representative Architecture

Residents of those and other lots in the subdivision would have to walk or drive to Hog Mountain Road to reach Barrs’ proposed project.

At present, Hog Mountain Road does not have full sidewalks, but the county’s plans are to add both bicycle and pedestrian “facilities” to Hog Mountain Road from Mars Hill Road in Butler’s Crossing to U.S. 441.

At the county’s request, these plans have been added to the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan of MACORTS, the  transportation planning body for the area. 

Construction will be underway shortly on expanding the lanes of Hog Mountain Road from Butler’s Crossing to U.S. 441 to 12 feet, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told me in an email message on Tuesday.

“Our next step will be to have the path engineering complete,” Daniell said, referring to the pedestrian facilities outlined in the MACORTS plans. “The final step will be construction.”

Daniell said he did not anticipate any construction prior to completion of the widening of Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 bypass.

Construction is expected to begin in the next weeks on that project, Daniell said at the Town Hall meeting in March, and continue for about two years.

Other Action: Wardlow Request

Before considering the request for special use approval from Barrs, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it grant a special use approval to the Wardlows to operate a septic cleaning service.

Representative Architecture

The 5.5 acres owned by the Wardlows, 1561Osborne Road in the northwest tip of the county, is zoned for agricultural use.

The couple is seeking to store and park a septic truck, trailers, farm equipment, and storage tanker at an existing barn along Osborne Road, according to the staff report.

The equipment would be utilized for the applicant’s business, Septic Solutions of Oconee, LLC.

The staff had recommended the granting of the request.

Three neighbors spoke in favor of the request, and no one spoke in opposition.

Other Action: McClure Rezone

The Planning Commission also voted unanimously to recommend approval of the request by McClure, through his Rhino Mini-Storage LLC, that 8.4 acres on Moreland Heights Road be rezoned from Office Business Park To Office Institutional Professional.

A portion of the parcel was rezoned in 2002 for an office and warehouse development, and another part was zoned that year for the construction of eight mini-warehouse buildings.

Construction of the mini-warehouse buildings currently is underway.

The proposal is to build a 73,842-square foot assisted living facility that would consist of one single-story building with 100 beds.

In addition, the concept plans calls for construction of a 20,000-square foot single-story building to be leased to businesses.

No one other than the applicant spoke either in favor of or opposed to the proposal.


The video below is of the May 17 meeting of the Planning Commission.

The video is recorded from the Zoom live stream of the meeting.

The Wardlow presentation begins at 4:08 in the video.

Discussion of the McClure request begins at 11:16 in the video.

Discussion of Barrs request begins at 31:39 in the video.

Members of the Planning Commission began speaking at 55:47 in the video.

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