Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Oconee County Planning Staff Recommends Big Changes To Plans For Proposed Publix Shopping Center At Mars Hill And Connector

***Only One Full Entrance–On Mars Hill Road Allowed***

The Oconee County planning staff has recommended approval of the rezone request for a shopping center with a Publix at the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road on the condition that access to the shopping center be significantly restricted.

The planners have said that entrance to the shopping center off the Oconee Connector should allow only right-in and right-out traffic, rather than the full commercial access requested by property owner Maxie Price.

The planning staff report says that access to the shopping center off Mars Hill Road should be limited to one full-access entrance and two right-in, right-out entrances.

Price has asked for two full-access entrances and one right-in, right-out entrance on Mars Hill Road.

The Planning Staff Report also says that all of the 11 lots in the proposed shopping center should be connected to allow for possible future access to the development from Virgil Langford Road.

Price also should be required to upgrade Mars Hill Road along the frontage of the shopping center to county street design standards for arterial roads, the highest level in the county, according to the staff recommendation.

Guy Herring, Director of Planning and Code Enforcement for the county, said on Wednesday afternoon that the Planning Commission hearing on the rezone request by Price is being rescheduled from Oct. 17 to Nov. 14 due to a public notice error.

The Board of Commissioners should be scheduled to take up the rezone request at its meeting on Dec. 6.

Rezone Request

Price, who owns 47 acres that lie between SR 316, the Oconee Connector, and Mars Hill Road, is seeking to rezone only a little more than 34 of those acres for the shopping center.

Acreage In Blue Proposed For Shopping Center

The 34 acres currently are zoned B-1 Planned Unit Development and B-2 Highway Business. Price wants the land to be developed so that three lots in the shopping center are zoned B-2 and eight are zoned B-1 General Business District.

The goal is to make the lots available for future purchase, according to the staff report.

Publix is shown as occupying the largest of the lots, abutting Mars Hill Road.

The rezone request follows a request denied by the Board of Commissioners in May of 2021 that involved the entire 47 acres that Price owns under the name of his company, Deferred Tax LLC.

Price had asked that all three parcels be zoned B-2, or Highway Business District.

No plans have been announced for the remaining acreage, which is zoned for a residential development.

Problems with access to the property off the Oconee Connector and off Mars Hill Road were mentioned by commissioners in the discussion leading up to their vote to deny the rezone request last year.

Access Requests

The Narrative submitted by Price for the new rezone states that “The primary access point to the development will be located at the proposed full commercial access median break on the Oconee Connector.”

The plans do not provide details of that access, but the earlier plans specified a traffic light with right in and right out, and left in and left out, traffic.

The proposal also is for three separate commercial access drives on Mars Hill Road.

One of those is to be opposite the existing Old Mars Hill Road.

Another is approximately opposite the existing Hollow Creek Lane.

A third access drive is to be west of Hollow Creek Lane and will “serve as a primary access to the Publix Shopping Village for vehicles traveling on Mars Hill Road,” according to the Narrative for the rezone.

The proposal also calls for future access via Virgil Langford Road.

Listed Conditions

The planning staff report said the “Staff recommends conditional approval of this request.”

The report lists 18 conditions, including six that deal with roadways inside and outside the development.

The proposed site entrance “on the Oconee Connector shall be restricted to right-in right-out only, and a southbound dedicated right turn lane into the development shall be installed,” according to the report.

The report further states that a “roundabout shall be installed at Hollow Creek Lane” and this will be the only full entrance to the shopping center.

Two other entrances, one east and one west of that roundabout, are to allow only right-in and right-out traffic.

The staff report notes that “Increased traffic generation is also anticipated, with an approximate 17,781 additional ADT.” ADT stands for average daily traffic.

“The development is also anticipated to significantly increase demand on local streets,” the report states.

“(C)onditions are suggested below in order to maintain traffic safety in light of future anticipated transportation improvements to the adjacent road network,” the report states.

GDOT Plans

The Narrative for the rezones by Price acknowledges uncertainty about the access to Virgil Langford Road resulting from Georgia Department of Transportation plans to build a bridge to carry Virgil Langford Road over SR 316.

Georgia Department of Transportation officials have said construction work on that flyover as well as on the full interchanges with flyovers for Jimmy Daniell Road and the Oconee Connector will begin in 2024 and last for three years.

According to the GDOT officials at a June virtual public information session, the east bound exit ramp at the Oconee Connector could be closed during one period of construction for up to 45 days.

The Oconee Connector as well as SR 316 will remain open to traffic during the three years of construction, the engineers said, but the number of lanes on the Oconee Connector will be reduced to two in each direction to handle the construction.

At present, there is no access to the Deferred Tax Property from the Oconee Connector.

Deferred Tax is proposing that it be granted access to the Connector at the median break that currently exists.

The GDOT plans released on June 15 show construction on the Oconee Connector extending south nearly to the exit from Kwik Trip. It does not show access to the Deferred Tax property.

Next Step

The Planning Staff Report now goes to the Planning Commission, which will hold a public hearing on the rezone request at its meeting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, which also is scheduled to hold a public hearing at its meeting on Dec. 6.

That meeting starts at 6 p.m., also is in the Courthouse.

The intersection of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector is one of the busiest in the county, and the rezone request last year generated a great deal of negative citizen comment.

Mars Hill Responsible Development, the group that coordinated the opposition last year, sent out an email (from on Oct. 10 advising people of the new request and the dates of the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioner meetings.

Herring said in an email at 4:05 p.m. on Oct. 12 that “Deferred Tax is being rescheduled to the Nov. 14th PC due to a public notice error on our part.”

“We will pull the signs today and re-advertise the legal for Nov. 14th,” he wrote. “The applicant representative has been notified and the Planning Commission.”

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