Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Oconee Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Rezone For New Shopping Center At Hog Mountain Road And U.S. 78

***Residents of Oconee Crossing Asked For Denial***

Residents of Oconee Crossing subdivision told the Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday evening that they are not opposed to a proposed shopping center at the edge of their neighborhood.

They said they have expected development of the acreage between their neighborhood and Stripling’s General Store at the corner of Hog Mountain Road and U.S. 78.

The Oconee Crossing residents knew the approved rezone plans for their neighborhood called for commercial development on that land, a representative of the neighborhood association told the Planning Commission.

What they object to about the current plans, the representative said, is the change from a B-1 General Business District Zoning to a B-2 Highway Business District Zoning for a portion of the property.

Specifically, they object to the large grocery story allowed in the B-2 Zoning and proposed by property owner Donald Hammett of Kennesaw. The original plan called for smaller commercial buildings.

And they object to the four drive-through restaurants proposed by Hammett that are not allowed in a B-1 Zone and were not included in the original plan approved by the county in 1990.

The plea received little support from the Planning Commission, which voted 5 to 1 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners approve the Hammett rezone request when it meets on Aug. 2.

The Planning Commission also recommended approval of a modification of the zoning of the property surrounding Magnolia Estates of Oconee on Mars Hill Road at Virgil Langford Road to allow for the addition of 78 cottages.

Crowded Meeting Room

As the meeting began on Monday, the left side of the Commission Chamber was filled with citizens wearing red t-shirts. Others were standing in the hallway outside the room.

Porter, With Clients In Red

Jeff Carter, representing Hammett, told the Commission in his presentation that “one of the two issues, the reasons, that we’re here tonight is to get the drive-through restaurants.”

“We're also wanting to build a grocery store over 20,000 square feet,” Carter said.

Hammett needs the B-2 zoning for those two changes from the rezone approved in 1990, he said.

“I feel like this is really an update to a development plan that was approved in 1990,” he said.

The area is appropriate for commercial development, he said, and “If this development is allowed to go through, then that's going to pull traffic and pull congestion away from Butler's Crossing,” on Hog Mountain Road east of the Hammett site.

“The previous Commission in 1990 liked this area as a commercial development shopping center,” Carter said. “The Future Development Map absolutely supports it.”

“Your county staff supports this development--thinks it's a good idea,” he said, “and so we would we would–I really appreciate your help tonight.”

The staff report of the Oconee County Department of Planning and Code Enforcement Department recommended approval of the rezone.

Oconee Crossing HOA

Stanton Porter, an attorney representing the Oconee Crossing Home Owners Association, said “oftentimes when you see people here opposing some of these matters it's because they don't want development near them.”

“And that's the case here,” he continued, “but there's something that's particularly unique about this project.”

The Oconee Crossing subdivision was part of a larger development that was approved in 1990, Porter said.

“Every one of the homeowners that live in Oconee Crossing bought their house with the legal understanding and expectation that that property, this subject property, would and likely will be developed, but that it would be developed under the B-1 conditions.”

“This is not a case of there's vacant land near a subdivision and people don't want it developed a particular way,” Porter said. “This is part of their subdivision. It was part of the development.”

“And we think that that that gives them sort of a an even more vested interest in the fact of what goes in there and whether or not this rezone should be granted,” he said.

Agreed On Issue

Porter said that Carter was right in saying the issue was the grocery and the drive-through restaurants.

Existing Residential And Business Zoning

The four drive-throughs and one large-scale grocery store bring “a whole different kind of commercial traffic, a whole different type of population to the area than you would have in the types of stores that would be allowed under a B-1,” he said.

The residents whose homes back up to the grocery story are “going to be staring at the back of a supermarket where large delivery trucks make their deliveries at night,” Porter said.

Residents whose property backs up on the drive-through restaurants are going have to deal with noise and light pollution from the traffic, he added.

“There will also be odors,” he said. “You can smell the restaurants when the drive-throughs are cooking.”

“That's what all these people are going to smell when they stand out on their backyard,” he said.

Porter was followed to the podium by Rick Caffery, a resident of Oconee Crossing, who said Hammett could develop the subdivision successfully with the existing B-1 zoning.

Caffery also said a large scale grocery isn’t needed given that the county has approved a rezone for a reconfigured Meadowlands shopping center near Hammett’s proposed development at Dials Mill Road and U.S. 78 that also includes a large grocery story as an anchor.

Concept Plan

The rezone request before the county would split the 42.8-acre tract currently zoned B-1 into two parcels.

The property facing Hog Mountain Road would remain zoned B-1 and would consist of six buildings with 71,000 square feet of space.

This would be used for retail and office development.

The property facing U.S. 78 would be made up of nine lots with eight buildings with approximately 195,400 square feet of building area.

The larger parcel would include the grocery store, a car wash, and the four drive-through restaurants. Another building is identified as a retail garden and supply store.

No tenant has been named for the 48,500 square-foot-building identified as a grocery.

Access to the shopping center would be from a full-access driveway on Hog Mountain Road and from a shared full access driveway with Stripling’s on Hog Mountain Road.

Entrances from U.S. 78 would include a shared right-in right out entrance with Stripling's, from two other right-in right-out entrances on U.S. 78, and from a full access driveway on U.S. at the existing median break. A light is proposed for that break.

Original Plan

The 1990 rezone included the property on which the Stripling’s is located as well as what is now the Oconee Crossing subdivision.

Hammett sold the property on which Stripling's sits to Camp Family Properties in 2011, according to county tax records. The Stripling’s was built in 2012.

The original rezone was for 252,000 square feet of commercial space, including the Striplings. County tax records list that building as 15,626 square feet in size.

The new proposal is for 266,400 square feet.

“The original design anticipated that the commercial portion of the property would be developed between 1993 and 1999 and has since been paused due in part to the limited scope of uses allowed in the B-1 zoning,” according to the narrative Hammett submitted with the rezone request.

“In 1990, they thought, well, we're going to build a 10, 000 square foot Blockbuster,” Carter said at the meeting on Monday. “You're not going to do that today.”

“Times have changed,” he continued. “People want drive-throughs. That's what the market shows.”

Planning Commission Action

Members of the Planning Commission were mostly concerned about the buffer between the B-2 development and Oconee Crossing.

Byrd Casting Negative Vote

Porter had told them that in normal situations the county would have a transition between a B-2 rezone area and residential development to protect the residential lots.

Commission Member Matt Elder proposed adding an earthen berm beneath planted trees to cut down on the potential impact on the homes from the grocery and other businesses, including the drive-through restaurants.

The motion to recommend approval of the rezone to the Board of Commissioners included that specification.

Commission Members Elder, Chuck Hunt, Chris Herring, Penny Mills, and Gavin Jordan voted to approve.

Nathan Byrd was the sole vote against the recommendation.

The Board of Commissioners will take up a variance request from Hammett on Aug. 2 when it holds it hearing on the rezone. Hammett is requesting a reduction of the required parking spaces for the shopping center.

New Magnolia

The existing Magnolia Estates of Oconee retirement community, 1641 Virgil Langford Road, was built in 1998 after a 1997 rezone to allow for the current 49 units in a single building on just more than four acres.

Concept Plan New Magnolia
(Click To Enlarge)

Surrounding parcels were rezoned in 2003 for expansion of the existing living facility by adding 48 independent living dwelling units and amenities.

Those additional units, which were never built, were to be quadruplexis and duplex cottages.

The original property on which the existing facility sits and the surrounding property is now under new ownership, The New Magnolia of Oconee LLC.

(Tim Saxon, President and CFO of Magnolia Estates Senior Living, said in a telephone conversation on 7/21/2022 that he and his wife will continue to own the facility itself and to operate it as in the past.)

The request before the Planning Commission on Monday was to consolidate the zoning for the six parcels totaling just more than 24 acres to a single zoning classification, OIP (Office Institutional Professional District) to accommodate the new plans.

The new concept plan calls for the 78 cottage style independent units with up to 182 additional bedrooms, an amenities area, a clubhouse, and common areas.

Explanation for Request

Frank Pittman of Pittman Engineering told the Planning Commission on Monday he was representing owners Chad Keller and Jay Sanders.

Pittman said the plans for Magnolia Estates always had called for a main building in the center of a larger complex with amenities and other buildings surround the core facility.

Pittman said quadruplexes are now “outdated,” and Keller and Sanders want to change the originally approved rezone plan to single cottages.

Pittman said there is a need for such a facility in the county.

“Presbyterian Village has done real well,” he said, “but it's an enormous cost level that most people can't afford. And they're full with a waiting list.”

All of the units will be owned by New Magnolia, Pittman said. Access will be from the current entrance on Virgil Langford Road.

With little discussion, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the rezone to the Board of Commissioners.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to act on that recommendation on Aug. 2.


The video below is recorded from Zoom and appears on the county YouTube channel.

The pictures above are screen shots from a separate video I captured of the live streamed meeting.

The meeting begins at 13:58 in the video with Chair Brad Tucker calling the meeting to order.

Discussion of the Hammett rezone request beings at 17:01 in the video.

Discussion of the New Magnolia rezone begins at 1:17:37 in the video.

The Planning Commission also approved four other rezones involving property splits for residential developments.


GAT said...

I just want to thank you for your excellent reporting. I read every one of your newsletters and often share them with others. I am a resident of Barrow County, at The Georgia Club. We shop and eat in Oconee as much as in Barrow, and your political reporting is also revealing of the local scene. I truly wish there was such insightful reporting being done as to matters in Barrow. Thanks again. Glee Triplett

Tim Saxon said...

Your information regarding ownership of Magnolia Estates of Oconee Senior Living is incorrect. The facilty itself has NOT been sold, only the surrounding property. The facilty is STILL owned by the ORIGINAL owners, Ann and Tim Saxon and is still functioning as it has since 1998.

Tim Saxon
President & CFO
Magnolia Estates Senior Living

Lee Becker said...

Thank you for this comment and for our subsequent conversation. As you explained it, the land under the existing facility has been sold, which is what is shown in the tax records, but the building has not been sold and you will continue to operate the existing facility as in the past.
I thank you for the additional information and clarification.