Maxie Price’s Deferred Tax LLC was back before the Oconee County Planning Commission Monday night with a revised plan for a shopping center at the corner of Mars Hill Road and the Oconee Connector.
The outcome was largely unchanged from April 2021.
The Planning Commission, with only limited discussion, voted 6 to 1 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners deny the rezone request.
The vote last April had been 6 to 3 for denial.
Commission Member Matt Elder voted against the denial both times.
The Commission Chamber was full on Monday, with citizens backed up into the hallway.
Eight of those attending, representing a variety of neighborhoods, spoke against the rezone. The central concern was traffic from the development.
No one other than Ken Beall, representing Price, spoke in favor.
In separate action, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a rezone request for nearly nine acres on Parkway Boulevard next to Kohl’s for an 80-bed rehabilitation hospital.
Presentation of Proposal
Ken Beall of Beall and Company, representing Price and Deferred Tax LLC, made his pitch to the Planning Commission following a brief introduction of the project by the county planning staff.
As he did before the Board of Commissioners voted down the earlier rezone request last May, Beall focused on what he called the “history” of the project in his comments.
Beall argued that his client was guaranteed an entrance to the Oconee Connector and multiple entrances on Mars Hill Road by agreements with the county, some going back to 1988.
In the current rezone, Price is requesting a full commercial access median break on the Oconee Connector, as he did last year.
Beall also asked for three separate commercial access drives on Mars Hill Road and for future access via Virgil Langford Road.
At present, there is no access to the Deferred Tax Property from the Oconee Connector.
The Georgia Department of Transportation plans to begin construction in 2024 of a multigrade intersection for the Oconee Connector and SR 316. Those plans do not include access to the Deferred Tax property.
Planning Staff Recommendation
The planning staff recommended approval of the rezone request by Price but with the condition that the access 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.”
The staff also recommended construction of a roundabout at Hollow Creek Lane, which would serve as the only full entrance to the shopping center.
Staff also recommended two other entrances, one east and one west of that roundabout, each with only right-in and right-out traffic.
The staff also listed as a condition that “For the entirety of the project’s frontage along Mars Hill Road, Mars Hill Road shall be upgraded to County street design standards for arterial roads.”
Beall said he wanted a “full access commercial median break” on the entrance on the Oconee Connector, in conflict with the staff recommendation.
Jennifer Walker, from the Bond Crossing subdivision, was the first of the eight citizens to speak, and she said she acknowledged the improvement of the current rezone request from the one before the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners last year.
Deferred Tax owns three properties summing to just less than 47 acres between the Connector, Mars Hill Road, Virgil Langford Road, and SR 316.
One of those properties, which only has frontage on Mars Hill Road, is zoned residential, and the others are zoned for general business (B-1) and for highway business (B-2).
This time around, Price is not asking to change the zoning for the 13.2-acre residential tract, and Beall said on Monday night that Price has no plans to change that classification.
Walker said even with the more limited development traffic remains a major problem.
She also said she felt it was impossible for the county to approve the plans without a final design of the flyover of SR 316 planned by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Wilder Bailey, also from Bond Crossing, picked up on Walker’s comments and said “the development is not a good fit for the property.”
Greg Jungles, from the Oak Ridge neighborhood that surrounds Hollow Creek Lane, also commented on how the new traffic will affect his neighborhood.
Zach Sheffield, from Founder’s Grove subdivision off Daniells Bridge Road, was next to the podium, and he said the field the traffic study used in the rezone was useless.
With Costco opening on Tuesday, he said, the traffic study is “hopelessly obsolete tomorrow.”
Margaret Blanchard from Paul Ridge, west of the proposed shopping center off Mars Hill Road, said the proposed concept plan “is not a 21st Century model of economic development.”
Chris Smith, from nearby Canyon Creek Drive, echoed comments made by many of those who spoke.
“We don’t need this stuff here,” he said. “There are plenty of grocery stores in this area to go to.”
Other Concerns Voiced
Scott Kennedy from the Oak Ridge Hollow Creek neighborhood said he was concerned about the noise from the development.
“Putting this in is a nightmare,” he said. “We don’t need this.”
Neighbor Joshuo Russo asked what would happen to the existing Publix, saying he was afraid a new Publix would adversely affect Butler’s Crossing.
Beall, in his response to the citizen comment, said “there are no plans to close the existing Publix.”
“A number of people don’t think there are too many grocery stores in Oconee County,” Beall said.
That produced laughter from the audience, but Beall said "county," while the citizens had focused on the area around the proposed new Publix.
Commission Member Comment
In the exchange among Commission Members following the citizen comment, Elder said the county had agreed to the requests that Price is making for access to the subdivision.
He also said Price will be required to upgrade Mars Hill Road to accommodate the increased traffic.
Chris Herring, who lives in Bond Crossing, focused his comments on traffic issues.
In respones to a question from Chris Herring, Planning and Code Enforcement Director Guy Herring, said that in the current Georgia Department of Transportation plans the existing median break on the Oconee Connector would remain unchanged.
Chris Herring and Guy Herring are not related.
In response to a question from Planning Commission Member Mike Floyd, Guy Herring said that Oconee County has the authority to restrict access to the Price property as the staff has recommended.
Chris Herring made the motion to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it deny the rezone request.
The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to take up the request from Price at its meeting on Dec. 6.
Last May, Commissioners Amrey Harden, Chuck Horton, and Mark Saxon voted to deny the rezone request then before them.
Mark Thomas cast the only vote against the motion to deny.
Horton attended the Planning Commission meeting in person on Monday, and Harden attended remotely via Zoom.
The rezone is an unusual one in that it is at one of the busiest intersections in the county and affects everyone who uses the Mars Hill Road and Oconee Connector corridor.
Harden lives off Mars Hill Road west of the proposed development.
I live east of it off Daniells Bridge Road.
The rezone request by Epps Bridge Parkway LLC for a rezone of the 8.87-acre parcel for a rehabilitation hospital was without any controversy. Carl Nichols is the registered agent for Epps Bridge Parkway LLC.
|Rehabilitation Hospital Rendition|
Frank Pittman from Pittman and Greer Engineering said Piedmont Health Care will partner with Encompass Health to build an 80-bed rehabilitation hospital on the site.
The concept plan calls for a single building with 80,000 square feet of space.
Pittman is asking the county to downzone the property from its current B-2 High Business District classification to an Official Institutional Profession District (OIP)
Pittman said Kohl’s has the right to approve use of the property under an agreement with the owners and had objected to any commercial competition, holding up development of the property.
This request also will to the Board of Commissioners at its Dec. 6 meeting.
The embedded video below is on the county web site.
Discussion of the Deferred Tax rezone request begins at 24:49 in the video.