Sunday, November 13, 2022

Signs Signal Continued Opposition to Rezone Request For Publix Shopping Center At Mars Hill Road And Oconee Connector

***Access Remains Main Issue***

When Maxie Price resubmitted his application for a rezone for a shopping center at the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road, he eliminated a component that most adversely affects one of the key residential areas along Mars Hill Road.

The 13 acres opposite the entrance to Bond Crossing subdivision on DaAndra Drive is not part of Price’s current rezone request for the shopping center that is to include a Publix.

Much of the most vocal opposition last year to Price’s request for his Deferred Tax LLC properties came from Bond Crossing residents.

Repurposed signs in yards in the Hollow Creek neighborhood across Mars Hill Road for the proposed shopping center suggest, however, that opposition remains strong in that residential area.

The revised plans will get their first public review at 7 p.m. on Monday when the Oconee County Planning Commission holds a public hearing on the new rezone request by Price.

This rezone is different from most that come before the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners.

Because Price is asking for a full commercial entrance to his shopping center on the Oconee Connector and for three entrances on Mars Hill Road between DaAndra Drive and the Connector, the rezone request affects everyone in the county who uses those two roads.

When the Board of Commissioners turned down Price’s request for a rezone for the shopping center last year, members cited traffic on those two roads as a prime concern.

Signs From Earlier Rezone

Signs recycled from the successful protest over a rezone at Oconee Crossing subdivision appear on Mars Hill Road next to the required signs announcing the rezone hearings before the Planning Commission on Monday and the Board of Commissioners on Dec. 6.

Mars Hill Road Looking East

The signs read “Don’t Gwinnett Our Oconee Say No To Oconee Crossing Rezone.”

Those signs also appear in the Hollow Creek neighborhood, with the “To Oconee Crossing Rezone” line covered over.

Residents of the Oconee Crossing subdivision off Hog Mountain Road near U.S. 78 used those signs and advertisements in The Oconee Enterprise with the same language leading up to hearings on a rezone for a shopping center next door to their homes.

The Board of Commissioners in October, in a 3 to 1 vote, rejected the rezone request for the shopping center at intersection of U.S. 78 and Hog Mountain Road that would have backed up to the Oconee Crossing subdivision.

The group, Mars Hill Responsible Development, also sent out an email on Nov. 3 announcing the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners meeting and asking readers of the email to contact the Board of Commissioner members asking them to oppose the new rezone request.

The Mars Hill Responsible Development group had played a lead role in fighting the rezone request for the Publix shopping center last year.

Chris Herring, who also spoke against that rezone, now is a member of the Planning Commission.

Concept Plan

Price, through his company, Deferred Tax LLC, is proposing a commercial subdivision of 11 lots, including a 9.4-acre-lot for a Publix grocery store and attached shops.

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).

When Deferred Tax initially submitted its proposal rezone in October of 2020, it asked that all three parcels be zoned B-2, or Highway Business District.

The documents submitted for the current rezone do not include the 13.2 acres currently zoned residential. The 1992 rezone of that property specified a 15-lot single-family subdivision.

The rezone category being sought in the current rezone is B-1, General Business District, and B-2 (Highway Business District) for the 26.8 and 6.8 acre parcels that have frontage on both the Connector and Mars Hill Road.

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 shows 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.

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 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.

Listed Conditions

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

Hollow Creek Lane At Fox Glen Drive

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

The proposed site entrance “along 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 recommends 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.”

Truck Access

In May 2021, when the Board of Commissioners rejected the Deferred Tax request for a rezone, Commissioner Chuck Horton said his primary concern was traffic on Mars Hill Road.

Since that time, the Board of Commissioners passed an updated Truck Traffic Ordinance that bans through trucks on Mars Hill Road in its entirety and on the Oconee Connector from Daniells Bridge Road to SR 316.

In an email last week, I asked Oconee County Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Guy Herring how trucks would access the proposed shopping center given the conditions his staff has recommended and the new Truck Traffic Ordinance.

Herring said he discussed my questions with the Public Works Department staff.

“(T)he trucks traffic would be expected to enter from the right in right out on Mars Hill/Connector, circle around the shopping center, and exit via the conditional round about at Hollow Creek to get back to the Mars Hill/Daniels Bridge intersection to go north back to 316,” Herring wrote.

“Mars Hill to the west is a no thru truck route,” he said.

Planning Commission Hearing Accessing

The Planning Commission meets in the Commission Chamber in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Planning Commission meetings also are live streamed.

Access details are on the Planning Commission web site.

I live off Daniells Bridge Road and pass through the site of this rezone several times a week.

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