Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Citizens, Developer, Oconee County Commissioners Reach Compromise On Rezone Of U.S. 78 Shopping Center

***Entrance Off Talus Street Becomes Multi-Use Path***

Joel Adair, president of the Belfair Homeowners Association, was deliberate and measured as he offered his 12-minutes of comments to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night.

Adair said he recognized that the proposal before the Board for a reconfigured Meadowlands shopping center and Continuing Care Retirement Community fronting on U.S. 78 was a significant improvement over the one approved by the Board in 2009.

Even with the changes, Adair said, the development was going to produce increased traffic from Dials Mill Road cutting through the Belfair subdivision to reach the proposed shopping center, making it unsafe for the families living there.

One solution, Adair said, was to close the entrance to the shopping center off Talus Street.

Commissioners Chuck Horton and Amrey Harden said they were sympathetic and that said they wanted to find a way to address the concerns of Adair and his neighbors. Harden asked if the proposed entrance road could become a multi-use path instead.

Bob Smith, representing developer Mark Jennings’ Ellington Farms Development Partners LLC, said Jennings would agree to the restriction.

The Board then voted unanimously to approve the 90-acre development that is to include a large grocery store, a collection of small retail shops and offices, independent living units, and two multi-story buildings for both assisted living and independent living.

Dials Mill Road, which runs from U.S. 78 to SR 316, also came up at the beginning of the meeting when the president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association asked the Commissioners to monitor state planning for a multi-grade interchange of the road with SR 316.

Belfair Concerns

Belfair's Adair told the commissioners that the new plans before them reduced the size of the commercial development at Meadowlands, and that would help to reduce traffic through Belfair subdivision.

Adair Before Commission 9/7/2021

Eliminating an approved connecting road to the development from Ruby Way inside Belfair also was a big help to the 128 families in the subdivision, he said.

The construction of the Dollar General on Garland Drive near Pete Dickens Road in 2017 already has resulted in cut-through traffic from Dials Mill Road by motorists who want to avoid trying to turn onto U.S. 78 to backtrack to the store, he said.

The new grocery store, shops, and retirement community would only add to the problem, he said.

“The expected increase in vehicle density will have a direct correlation with the likelihood of an incident occurring,” Adair said.

Adair said that the access to the shopping center from Talus Street “will cause an undue stress on the residents of Belfair, which in turn could result in a sudden urge for families to sell their homes,” he said.

“Therefore in addition to our security we also have to worry about the value of our investment,” he added.

“We respectfully urge you to consider using your authority over the public roads in Oconee County to somehow block out access” to the shopping center from Talus Street, Adair said.

Access In Concept Plan

The concept plan before the Commission showed access to the shopping center via an extension of Garland Drive across Talus Street to the main commercial part of the project.

In addition to the 65,000-square-foot building sitting back from U.S. 78 labeled as a grocery store, the plans show two buildings adjoining the grocery store, and two buildings and a fuel station that front on U.S. 78.

The plans also show 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. That area had been commercial in the 2009 proposal.

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. This area is on other side of a major gas transmission line easement.

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.

Another right-in, right out entrance is shown on U.S. 78 near Talus Drive. The assisted living part of the project also has an entrance on Dials Mill Road.

Adair also asked for an increased buffer between the larger part of the commercial development and the homes behind it.

Second Speaker

Lawton Jones, who lives on Talus Street, followed Adair to the podium for Tuesday’s public hearing.

Jones was one of the four speakers–all from Belfair subdivison–who voiced opposition to the proposal at the public hearing before the Planning Commission on Aug. 16, when that body unanimously recommended approval of the rezone request by Ellington Farms.

This time, Jones brought with him to the podium his wife, his five-year-old son, and his three-year-old daughter.

Jones Family Before Commission 9/7/2021

Jones said the four of them came “because we want to show you a visual picture of what this new residential and commercial build is impacting.

“It's impacting him,” Jones said motioning toward his son. “It’s impact her,” he said, motioning toward his daughter. “It's impacting our ability to let them play in the front yard. Our ability to let them be out by themselves.”

“We love being Oconee County residents,” Jones said. “We don't want to move. But we also have to look out for these guys. These guys mean a whole lot to us and we know your kids mean a lot to you.”

Commissioner Comments

When the public hearing closed, Commissioner Chuck Horton noted that he had voted against the original rezone in 2009.

“I thought it was a bad deal then,” he said. ‘I do think this one's better, but I do sympathize with the homeowners.”

“I did back then, and if there's a way that we can eliminate that issue,” he continued, pointing on the chart projected behind him to the entrance off Talus Road, “I certainly would like to support that.”

“How dependent are you on that access to Talus Street?” Commissioner Amrey Harden asked Smith. Harden is in her first term on the Commission.

Smith said the entrance via Talus Street would keep some of the traffic off U.S. 78 and provide interconnectivity with the residential neighborhood, which he favors.

“Is this going to be a deal killer?” he asked. “No.”

Compromised Offered

Harden asked Planning and Code Enforcement Director Guy Herring and the other commissioners to consider turning the access off Talus Street into “bike/pedestrian access and no trucks or cars.”

“So I would like to put that forward Mr. Chairman as an option,” Harden said.

“We would accept that option,” Smith replied.

Harden asked Adair to respond as well.

“I think that would be a good compromise for us,” he responded.

The Commission had to vote to on three separate components of the request by Ellington Farms for a modification of 2009 rezone plans.

The vote on all three changes was unanimous.

Dials Mill Road Interchange

Sharon Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, used the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting on Tuesday to voice her concerns about the plans put forward by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for interchanges on SR 316.

This was the second public appearance by Thelen, who spoke at the meeting of the regional transportation planning body MACORTS on Aug. 25.

“Information on the GDOT web site leads us to conclude that a flyover is planned for Dials Mill Extension and a full interchange for Dials Mill Road,” Thelen told the commissioners.

“One question we have is why is construction planned at both intersections when they're less than a quarter of a mile apart from each other,” she continued.

The plans for the Dials Mill Road interchange have been moved forward with MACORTS at the request of GDOT.

Georgia Transportation Board Member Jamie Boswell is listing property near the interchange through his commercial real estate company Boswell Properties.

The project is scheduled for preliminary engineering this year, right of way acquisition in 2023, and construction in 2024 and 2025.

Impact of Interchange And Request

“A full interchange at Dials Mill Road is very concerning to us because our subdivision sits very close to the intersection of Dial Mill Road and 316,” Thelen said.

“Surveyors have been in our neighborhood for the past several weeks taking measurements and samples from nearly a dozen lots that run along Dials Mill Road,” she said. “It appears that GDOT would need to take land from some of the homeowners, and the entrance to our neighborhood may be impacted as well.”

“We wonder if GDOT plans are consistent with those developed by Oconee County leaders for this area,” Thelen said.

“We question why development at Dials Mill Road is occurring ahead of some other intersections,” Thelen said, “and we wonder if the plans should be re-evaluated to develop a more comprehensive plan for this area.”

“We ask the Oconee Board of Commissioners to advocate on behalf of local residents to ensure that GDOT plans for state road 316 in the western edge of the county take into account the needs of the broader area encompassing McNutt Creek Road, Pete Dickens Road, and Highway 78,” Thelen said in conclusion.

Planning Commission, Recreational Affairs Appointments

In other action Tuesday, the Board announced the appointment of Mike Floyd and Christopher Herring to the Planning Commission for four-year terms.

Floyd, currently a member of the Commission, is retired from the University of Georgia. Herring is a lecturer at the University of Georgia College of Engineering.

Nine people applied for the position. Karen Hilyard, whose term, along with Floyd’s, expires on Sept. 30, did not reapply.

The Board appointed Leslie Hunsinger, Kimberly J. Thomas, Amanda McCoy Ledford, Jason Hewell, and Melissa Hopkinson to the Recreation Advisory Committee for two-year terms to begin October 1.

Hunsinger, is a claims specialist, Thomas a University of Georgia administrator, Ledford a horse trainer, Hewell, who works in investments, and Hopkinson, a university lecturer.

Hunsinger, Hewell, Hopkinson, and Thomas currently serve on the Board.

Ledford replaces Jeanne Barsanti, who stepped down from the Board.

Seven people, including the four incumbents, applied for the five openings.

Other Action

The Board also appointed Sidney Bell, a retired educator, to the Board of Tax Assessors for the unexpired term to begin immediately and expire on March 31, 2025.

Harvey “Trey” Downs stepped down from the Board.

Four people applied for the single opening.

At the beginning of the meeting, Commission Chair John Daniell announced that the next Town Hall Meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Sept. 14 at the Oconee County Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing.

Daniell said the meeting will feature information about the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum on the ballot in November.


The embedded video below is on the county’s YouTube channel.

The meeting begins at 2:57 in the video.

Thelen begins her comments at 4:45 in the video.

The discussion of the Ellington Farms rezone is at 10:05 in the video.

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