Friday, December 10, 2021

Oconee County Commissioners Expand County Medical Area With Two New Rezones

***Jail Contracts, Committee Appointments Approved***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners approved zoning on Tuesday for a new large medical building and an assistant living community in the fast-developing medical area along Virgil Langford Road between SR 316 and SR 10 Loop.

University Cancer and Blood Center plans to open a 25,000 square-foot medical office on the just less than five acres of undeveloped land on the northeast corner of the Oconee Connector and SR 316.

Valeo Americas plans to develop an age-in-place retirement community with a memory care and assisted living complex, an independent living complex, and senior living cottages on just less than 31 acres fronting on SR 316 but stretching back to the Jennings Mill residential area.

No one other than representatives of the applicants spoke in the public hearings held on each of the rezone requests, and discussion among the Board members focused only on a request by the developer of the assisted living community to remove façade requirements.

The Board rejected the request and approved both rezones unanimously.

In other action the Board approved a contract with Oglethorpe County for housing prisoners at the underutilized Oconee County Jail and approved a separate jail agreement with the City of Watkinsville.

The Board also approved 39 Alcohol License Renewals, up just one from last year, appointed members to three boards or committees, and heard a glowing Audit Report for the completed Fiscal Year 2021.

Rezone For Medical Building

The Planning Commission, after public hearings last month, had recommended that the Board of Commissioners approve both of the rezones on the agenda on Tuesday.

Auditor Pilgrim Before Board 12/7/2021

University Cancer and Blood Center, which currently is located in a 14,164 square-foot building at 3320 Old Jefferson Road in Athens-Clarke County, is proposing to build the 25,000-square-foot building beginning the middle of 2022.

The facility will be constructed to allow for the addition of 5,000 more square feet of space.

The 4.8-acre tract is part of Resurgence Park and is already zoned B-2 for Highway Business. No change in that classification was sought.

Rezone For Senior Facility

The property at the other end of Virgil Langford Road to be developed as a retirement community has a complex history.

The 24 acres that make up the bulk of the property had been rezoned for a master plan residential development in 2007. That development failed.

The Fairways At 316 purchased the property in 2014 and had it rezoned to OIP (Office Institutional Professional) for a Continuum Care Retirement Community.

Oconee Medical Holdings LLC acquired the adjoining 6.2 acres from GDOT in 2015 and transferred it to The Fairways At 316.

The Fairways At 316 LLC asked the county to modify the zoning for the 24 acres to allow the current development and add the six new acres to the OIP classification in order to develop the assisted living community.

The Fairways At 316 LLC also asked the county to approve a variance to allow a proposed building to exceed the height restriction of 40 feet. The requested height is 55 feet.

Flexibility Request

At the Planning Commission meeting last month, Ken Beall, land planner representing the land owner and the developer, asked the county to set aside its usual requirement that “Building façade materials for the independent living building and the assisted living and memory care building shall be at least 80 percent brick or stone on all sides.”

The Planning Commission agreed, recommending that authority be given to Guy Herring, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, to decide on façade requirements.

County Commissioner Chuck Horton said on Tuesday that he was concerned about leaving “discretion to a staff person.” Horton said “I can’t recall us doing that before.”

County Attorney Daniel Haygood said that “the condition did not have any standards by which the Planning Director would make the decision” and this “might make it an impermissible delegation of authority.”

The Board rejected the Planning Commission modification of the façade requirement.

It approved the rezone request and the variance request for the building height of 55 feet.

Jail Contracts

The agreement approved by the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday between Oconee County Sheriff James Hale and Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel is a new one.

When the new jail was built in 1985, the expectation was that it could be a money generator for the county, and the county has had some contracts in the past. At present the jail is underutilized.

Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told Sheriff Hale on Tuesday that “We appreciate your doing that. That’s going to be really good.”

Daniell said the agreement will “bring in some money from something that usually costs you a lot of money.”

The Sheriff, as an elected Constitutional official, has responsibility for the jail, but jail finances are the responsibility of the county.

Oglethorpe County is agreeing to pay Oconee County a per diem boarding feel for each prisoner housed in the Oconee Count Jail of $35.

The agreement the Board approved with the City of Watkinsville is an extension of an agreement approved in 2019.

Watkinsville does not have a jail, and the agreement states that the Sheriff will house Watkinsville prisoners for a per diem of $20, the same amount as in the 2019 agreement.

Alcohol Licenses, Committee Appointments

The Board approved 17 licenses for retail sales by the package, up from 16 last year, 20 licenses for retail sales by the drink, the same as in 2020 for 2021, and two wholesale licenses, the same as last year.

The Board appointed Jay Hanley and Doug Hammond to the Board of Elections and Registration, James Padgett and Thomas Verner to the Farmland Preservation Ranking Committee, and Rachel Watson and Laura French to the Oconee County Library Advisory Board.

Each of the appointees currently is serving on the respective boards or committees, and the Board of Commissioners simply renewed their appointments.

Including the incumbents, seven people had applied for the Board of Elections and Registration, four had applied for the Farmland Preservation Committee, and four had applied for the Library Advisory Board.

Audit, Property Sales

Clay Pilgrim of Rushton, an accounting firm in Gainesville, told the Board on Tuesday that the audit of the county’s Fiscal Year 2021 records allows the firm to issue “an unmodified opinion, a clean opinion on the financial statements.”

“Nothing came to our attention during the audit that would prohibit us from issuing an unmodified opinion,” he continued.

“As of June 30, 2021, Oconee County government funds reported combined fund balances of $29,678,553, up from $25,536,182, in the prior year, an increase of $4,142,371,” the audit states.

Also, on Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners officially designated two properties owned by the county, the Ward Building at 3 Third Street, and the Office of Elections and Registration Building, 10 Court Street, as surplus property.

Upon construction of the new administrative building, these buildings will no longer be needed by the county. The new administrative building is in the design stages at the intersection of North Main Street and U.S. 441 bypass.

The Board voted to accept bids for the two surplus properties.

Opioid Settlement

Following an executive session at the end of its agenda-setting meeting on Nov. 30, the Board voted to agree to be bound to a proposed settlement in the multi-district litigation against a group of opioid distributors and manufacturers.

According to Oconee County Attorney Haygood, who presented the settlement to the Board, about $26 billion will be put into a fund that will be paid out over a period of years.

The settlement is dependent on some threshold of participation by cities, counties, and states, he said.

Oconee Counties share is unknown at this time, Haygood said, “but the best guess is that our share” is probably about $100,000, he said.


The embedded video below is from the YouTube channel for Oconee County.

Discussion of the rezone for University Cancer and Blood Center starts at 7:26 in the video.

Discussion of the senior living facility rezone begins at 12:13 in the video.

The audit report begins at 35:03 in the video.

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