Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Strong Turnout In Early Voting; County Agrees To Sell Post Office; Planning Commission Recommends Cell Tower, Medical Offices

***Westminster Christian Academy Gets Zoning Change***

In the first two days of early voting, 1,689, or a little more than 5 percent, of Oconee County’s 32,806 registered voters cast a ballot.

In the May primary, only 420 voters, or a little more than 1 percent, of the county’s 32,034 registered voters had cast a ballot in the first two days of early voting.

In the runup to the November 2020 election, however, 2,334, or more than 7 percent, of the county’s 31,594 registered voters had cast a ballot in the first two days of early voting.

Early voting continues through Nov. 4 at the Oconee County Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road. Voting takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the two Saturdays.

In other governmental action, the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority on Monday agreed to sell the Watkinsville Post Office to Postal Realty Holdings LLC, a group that focuses on properties leased to the United States Postal Service.

The agreement calls for Postal Realty to pay the county $1.6 million after the county survey’s the property to separate it from the adjoining property occupied by the Oconee County Library and also owned by the county.

Also on Monday, the Oconee County Planning Commission recommended to the Board of Commissioners that it approve a new cell tower in the far south of the county and approve a rezone requested by Presbyterian Homes for a two-building medical complex where Hog Mountain Road meets U.S. 441.

The Planning Commission also recommended approval of a complex rezone request by Westminster Christian Academy that will allow it to develop newly purchased acreage consistent with its development plan previously reviewed and approved by the county.

Post Office Sale

Courtney Bernardi, president of the Oconee Chamber of Commerce and a member of the county’s Industrial Development Authority, told that group in a called meeting at the Courthouse on Monday afternoon that she had been approached by telephone by Postal Realty Trust Inc. about the possibility of purchasing the building housing the Watkinsville Post Office.

Screen Shot Of IDA Meeting
Haygood, Left, Waller, Center

Bernardi said Postal Realty has acquired and is acquiring Post Offices across the country.

Bernardi said this is the only company of this type, and “the Post Office will function just as it does today given whatever federal guidelines from the U.S Postal Service are in place.”

According to the USPS Leased Facilities Report for Georgia, the Post Office is 8,256 square feet in size and sits on 57,059 square foot site, or 1.3 acres.

According to county tax records, the property on which the Post Office and Library sit is 4.65 acres, the square footage of the Post Office Building is 8,640, and the building itself, constructed in 1996, has an assessed value of just a little more than $1 million.

According to the USPS Leased Facilities Report for Georgia, a company called Georgia Postal Realty Holdings LLC currently owns 15 post office properties in small communities around the state.

Georgia Postal Realty Holdings LLC has its office address at the headquarters of Postal Realty Trust in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.

Justification For Sale

County Attorney Daniel Haygood, who represents the Industrial Development Authority, told group on Monday that “from a historical standpoint, the reason the IDA owns the Post Office was to guarantee that it remained in Watkinsville.”

“At the time that it was built, no one else was stepping forward to build a post office and there was concern about what might happen,” Haygood continued.

Haygood said the county through the IDA “decided that it was proper to build the Post Office and to operate it.”

“Long term, when you look at what the goals and the objectives of an Industrial Development Authority are, owning a Post Office is not one of those things,” he said.

“This, to my way of thinking as the attorney that's dealt with IDA for a pretty long time now,” Haygood said, “this is a very appropriate step to get the IDA out of the business being a landlord so it is focused on the business of economic development.”

On Haygood’s advise, the Authority approved the the agreement of purchase and sale and authorized Authority Chair Rick Waller to sign the contract.

The authority had met in executive session prior to getting the report from Bernardi and Haygood a second time in an open meeting and then approved in the open meeting the agreement to sell the property.

Future Of Post Office

The Oconee Enterprise reported on Aug. 24 that mail carrier operations were scheduled to move from the Watkinsville to the Athens Post Office on Olympic Drive on Sept. 24.

Post Office And Library Property Outlined In Yellow

Drivers who formerly picked up their mail for delivery would no longer do so, according to the report.

Bernardi told me in an email message on Tuesday that “It is my understanding that the date was pushed back to later this month,” but she did not have details of that decision.

Both Bernardi and Haygood, in an email message following the meeting on Monday, said this change played no role in the IDA’s decision to sell the property.

“Actually, this company's willingness to buy the building probably indicates there is not much chance of the Post Office being moved as their sole business is owing and leasing Post Office buildings to the USPS,” Haygood wrote.

Haygood said the county's lease agreement with the United States Postal Service is for $165,945 per year.

Planning Commission Action

The Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of a request by Fred Simonton of Gainesville for a special use for a cell tower to be leased to AT&T on 127 acres on Fambrough Bridge Road in the far south of the county.

Location Of Presbyterian Homes Rezone

One person spoke in opposition to the request that would allow for a 199 foot monopole cell tower of galvanized steel on a third of an acre near the center of the forested acreage.

Another person was in favor, and a third simply asked for clarification regarding the location.

The Commission also recommended approval of a request by Westminster Presbyterian Homes to rezone 3.8 acres on Welbrook Road from Agricultural Residential District (AR) to Office Institutional Professional District (OIP) for a medical office complex.

The property abuts the Athens Presbyterian Village, but the only access to the medical complex would be from Hog Mountain Road.

The Planning Commission also recommended approval of three rezone requests by Westminster Christian Academy to modify a 2017 master plan approved by the county to accommodate current needs.

The new plans incorporate purchase of 2.5 acres at the corner of Bishop Farms Parkway and New High Shoals Road.

All three of these requests are scheduled to be before the Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Nov. 1

Early Voting, Absentee Ballots

Jennifer Stone, Assistant Director of Elections and Registration, reported at the end of the day on Tuesday that the county has issued 1,144 absentee by mail ballots and received 81 back.

At the end of three days of early voting in 2020, the county had issued 7,037 absentee ballots and received 2,770 returned. (Figures were not released for the first two days of early voting.)

As a result, the total number of actual votes after three days of early voting in 2020 was 3,902.

The election in 2020 was conducted in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, making comparisons with early voting in the current election problematic.

The General Assembly also has made it more difficult to obtain and cast absentee ballots.

The election in 2020 included vote for president, but not for governor and other state executive positions, which are on this year’s ballot.

Federal and state legislative races also are on the ballot this year, as they were in 2020.

In 2018, 1,441 of the county's 29,408 registered voters had voted in the first two days of early voting, or 4.9 percent, just below the 5.1 percent this year.

The only Oconee County contests on the ballot are for Posts 2 and 3 on the Board of Education.

Voter Guides for those races are available in posts I uploaded on Sept. 22 and Oct. 6.


The first video below is of the IDA meeting.

The Authority returns from its closed executive session at 4:11 in the video.

The second video is of the Planning Commission meeting.

The audio of the Planning Commission meeting was muted until shortly after the meeting started.

That audio starts at 13:27 in the video.

Both videos are on the county’s YouTube Channel.

Note: Additional information was added to this post at 11:31 on 10/19/2022.

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