Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Modified Plans For Shopping Center On U.S. 78

***Citizens Still Concerned About Traffic***

The Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday recommended approval of a revised plan for development of a 90-acre shopping center and accompanying continuing care retirement community on U.S. 78 between Dials Mill Road and Pete Dickens Road.

The proposal involves a significant reduction from the original plans in the amount and nature of the commercial development and a marked expansion of the residential retirement community component.

One consistency is a proposed 65,000-square-foot grocery, which more than anything caused concern among residents of Belfair subdivision who spoke at the public hearing on Monday. The subdivision abuts the project.

The concept plan before the Planning Commission on Monday includes the grocery store center for larger retailers and a series of smaller, two-story buildings designed for restaurants, local businesses, artisans, coffee shops, and other small retail outlets.

These small buildings will be along a main street that will connect with an independent living community consisting of 101 independent living units including cottages, quadraplex buildings, and flats.

The commercial center and the independent living community also will be linked by internal roadways to two multi-story buildings for both assisted and independent living as well as four quadraplex buildings for independent living.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to take up the Planning Commission recommendation at its meeting on Sept. 7.

Nature of Request

The Board of Commissioners had rezoned the nearly 90 acres for a strip shopping center and a retirement community in 2009. As part of that same project, the Commission rezoned another 21 acres along U.S. 78 between Garrett Road and Dials Mill Road

Smith Before Planning Commission 8/16/2021

Nothing became of those plans.

Mark Jennings, through his company Ellington Farms Development Partners LLC, bought the property between Dials Mill Road and Pete Dickens Road in two difference purchases in 2012 and in 2016.

Jennings is owner of Athens Construction Group LLC, 2300 Pete Dickens Road in Bogart.

Jennings is asking the Board of Commissioners to take three actions.

*  Modify the 2009 commercial rezone for 27.5 acres of the property along U.S. 78 to reflect a new design of the commercial shopping center to be called the Market at Meadowlands.

*  Rezone parts of the property fronting U.S. 78 from B-2 (Highway Business District) and R-3 (Multi-Family Residential District) to R-3 (Multi-Family Residential District) in order to modify and expand the previously-approved Continuing Care Retirement Community.

*  Modify the previously approved concept plan and expand the acreage of the conditional use permit approved in 2009 for the Continuing Care Retirement Community to include the new component.

The two multi-story buildings for both assisted and independent living as well as four quadraplex buildings for independent living that are part of the Continuing Care Retirement community are separated from the acreage on U.S. 78 by a 175-foot gas pipeline easement on which nothing can be built.

Road Access

The commercial and residential project as proposed will be accessible via a full intersection on U.S. 78, another right-in, right out entrance on U.S. 78 near Talus Drive, and from Garland Drive off Pete Dickens Road.

The developer is proposing that the main entrance, opposite the campus of Prince Avenue Baptist Church, be signalized. A median break already exists at that location.

The assisted living part of the project also has an entrance on Dials Mill Road.

The new development does not include the previously proposed access to the Continuing Care Retirement Community from Ruby Way, which is a street inside the Belfair subdivision accessible from Pete Dickens Road.

Public Hearing

The four citizens who spoke against the rezone request on Monday night were all from Belfair subdivision, and they raised issues similar to those citizens raised in 2009.

Jason Marchant and Joel Patrick said the development will produce traffic in the neighborhood, particularly from people trying to reach the shopping center from Dials Mill Road.

Patrick said the neighborhood already has experienced that traffic with the opening of the Dollar General on U.S. 78 not far from the proposed shopping center.

Lawton Jones, who lives on Talus Street, said he was particularly concerned about noise from the grocery story.

Katrina Cooke said she knows she will use the grocery story if it is opened, but she objected to the noise it will create.

The shopping center proposed in 2009 also included a grocery store in a 65,000-square-foot building with two 10,500 square-foot buildings on either side.

First Commercial Component

The plans reviewed by the Planning Commission are fundamentally unchanged from 2009 for the part of the shopping center referred to as a “grocery store center” in the project narrative.

Rendition Of Proposed Commercial Strip

Two buildings and a fuel station front on U.S. 78 and are separated from the grocery store and two adjoining buildings by a large parking lot.

Planner Bob Smith of Smith Planning Group, representing Jennings and Ellington Farms Development Partners LLC at the Planning Commission on Monday night, did not give any indication what the prospects might be for a grocery store tenant.

The representative photos submitted with the application show what appears to be a boarded up Kroger, and the fuel station on U.S. 78 is consistent with the typical design for that firm.

Promising a grocery store is common by developers, and Jones Petroleum in 2019 listed a grocery in its proposed shopping center at the corner of Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78.

Second Commercial Component

Smith made much of the change in design for the second component of the commercial development, which will feed into the adjoining assisted living community.

The design approved in 2009 shows a collection of self-standing buildings along a single street.

The new design shows a series of smaller buildings of different sizes.

Smith said they all would be two-stories “providing the opportunity to have multiple tenants in the same small footprint.”

“The main access street bends and winds around the commercial units drawing attention to the buildings and tenant spaces,” the narrative submitted with the rezone says.

Buildings are placed along the street frontage with parking areas located at the rear, Smith said on Monday.

An extensive sidewalk and trail network is designed to engage foot traffic into the Market, the narrative states.

This area of the shopping center will include outdoor plazas and green pockets for gathering, event spaces, and exhibits, according to the narrative. These areas will connect to the assisted living and others parts of the Continuing Care Residential Community.

The goal is “to create a sense of place and walkability throughout the site,” according to the narrative.

New Assisted Living Section

The Continuing Care Retirement Community in documents shown the Planning Commission is labeled the Village at Meadowlands.

Concept Plan For Complete Project
(Click To Enlarge)

The independent living community on U.S. 78 consists of 28 cottages, seven quadraplex buildings, five mansion flats buildings, and five Meriweather flat buildings for a total of 101 independent living units.

Each of the quadraplexes consists of four two-bedroom units.

The mansion flats will be two-story buildings with four two-bedrooms units per building.

Meriweather flats will contain five units per building with each unit containing two-bedrooms. This building type will be three-stories high with parking on the first floor.

Original And New Complex

The concept plan submitted in 2009 contained only sketches of the buildings north of the pipeline easement with the designation that this was an area of “Proposed Future Development.”

The plans before the Planning Commission on Monday show two multi-story buildings for both assisted and independent living as well as four quadraplex buildings for independent living.

Within the multi-story buildings there will be a main kitchen, dining hall, billiard room, clinic, exercise room, postal facility, computer center, and hair salon, according to the narrative.

The total number of units in this section is 416, bringing the total for the entire Continuing Care Retirement Community to 517.

All residential units will be owned by the company that manages the Continuing Care Retirement Community, the narrative states. It does not identify that company.

The Village at Meadowlands will provide amenities such as a pool, whirlpool, pavilion, lake, walking and nature trail network, and open green space, according to the narrative.

Additionally, the community will provide daily meals, housekeeping, laundry services, 24-hour security, activities staff, maintenance services, and transportation services.

Size Comparisons

The total square footage of the original project was 425,212, but that included five buildings, including a hotel, on the 22.8 acres on U.S. 78 between Garrett Road and Dials Mill Road that Ellington Farms Development Partners LLC has not purchased.

That property is zoned B-2 for commercial development and could be developed in the future along the lines of the original plan.

Total square footage of the new commercial section is not to exceed 179,000 square feet.

The 425,212 square feet approved in 2009 did not include the continuing care retirement community.

Total Square footage of buildings in the section of The Village of Meadowlands along U.S. 78 in the current proposal is 175,900, and total square footing of buildings on the north side of the pipeline is 388,400.

That brings the total square footage for the continuing care retirement community to 564,300 and for the whole project to 743,300.

Development Of Regional Impact

The project is large enough to have required a review by planners at the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission (NEGRC), though no mention was made of that review at the Planning Commission.

Tucker And Residential Plan 8/16/21

The NEGRC planners wrote that the “decision to dramatically reduce the commercial square footage and add a variety of residential housing decreases the impact on surrounding properties and aligns the scale of the project with the (county’s) Comprehensive Plan.”

The review states that “the site design does a good job of clustering buildings and de-emphasizing parking to create a walkable neighborhood where visitors and customers can park once and still access multiple destinations.”

The planners were critical of the design of the area around the grocery store, saying it “still has too much surface parking.”

The review states that “Consolidating the parking and allowing parking spaces to serve multiple businesses would create more efficient use of parking spaces and reduce the overall number of spaces needed.”

“Overall this version of the project should be seen as a dramatic improvement over the previously approved proposal,” the planners wrote.

The project will be served by both county water and sewer. It is to be completed by 2027.

Board Of Commissioners 2009 Vote

The Board of Commissioners approved the 2009 rezone in two separate votes.

Citizens from Belfair had spoken against the project out of concern about its impact on traffic and a fear of noise and light pollution.

In the first vote, then Commissioner John Daniell, who is now Commission chair, made the motion to approve the rezone of the commercial strip from agricultural to business.

Then Commissioner Jim Luke seconded, and Commissioner Margaret Hale joined the pair in voting for the rezone. Commissioner Chuck Horton voted against the rezone.

Next, Hale made a motion to approve the continuing care retirement community, and Daniell seconded.

This time, Luke joined Horton in voting against the motion, resulting in a tie. Then Chair Melvin Davis voted in favor of the rezone.

The Planning Commission vote to recommend approval of all three of the requests by Ellington Farms Development Partners LLC on Monday was 5 to 0 in favor.


I did no attend the Planning Commisson meeting, but I did watch it remotely on Zoom and recorded the session on my computer.

Brad Tucker, Planning Commission chair, presided at the meeting.

Discussion of the three rezone requests by Ellington Farms Development Partners begins at 3:33 in the video.

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