The Oconee County Planning Commission recommended approval on Monday night of a commercial strip development on Malcom Bridge Road, three self-storage buildings in the triangle of U.S. 441, Old Macon Highway, and White Oak Drive, and six RV sites on the unbuilt Athens College of Ministry campus in the far east of the county.
Citizens spoke in opposition to each of these rezone requests, and no one other than the applicants and their representatives spoke in favor.
One citizen, late in the meeting, chided the Commission for always supporting the applicants, and when one commission member broke ranks and voted against one of the storage facilities, at least three people shouted out “Thank you.”
Planning Commission Chair Charles Hunt responded to the citizen complaint saying that the Commission members were all volunteers who wanted to control growth but also recognize the rights of land owners.
The storage facility produced the biggest crowd–flowing into the hallway outside the hearing room.
Many of those in attendance wore red shirts, and there were numerous negative references to Gwinnett County.
In October, Oconee Crossing subdivision residents wore red shirts and used signs saying Don’t Gwinnett Our Oconee in their successful fight against a commercial development adjoining their neighborhood.
Hunt told the citizens on Monday they could take up their concerns with the Board of Commissioners, who will hold a public hearing on Jan. 3 before making a decision on the rezone requests.
The first rezone request before the Board on Monday night was from Lenru Development LLC, with Rodney Jones as the registered agent.
The Board of Commissioners in 2018 rezoned 7.5 acres at the intersection of Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road for Jones so he could build a shopping center that is just now being put under construction.
The request before the Planning Commission on Monday night was for 3.3 adjoining acres that Lenru Development also owns. The property is opposite Malcom Bridge Middle School.
Jones wants to construct three single-story buildings to house a daycare facility, a dog daycare facility, a dry cleaner drop off/pick up center, and a small office.
Access will be off both Malcom Bridge Road and Lenru Road. The entrance off Malcom Bridge Road will allow only right-in, right-out traffic, while the entrance off Lenru Road will be full access.
Originally, access to the two pieces of property Lenru Development owns was to be via a roundabout at the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School, but the Board of Education blocked those plans by refusing to grant right of way.
Bryan Marshburn from the nearby Harperfield subdivison was the only citizen to speak at the meeting on Monday, and he told the Commission that the daycare will create too much traffic and the dog daycare is not a “good fit” for the area.
The Planning Commission voted 8 to 0 to recommend approval of the rezone to the Board of Commissioners.
Eschol D. Graham Leasing LLC owns four of the eight parcels in the triangle created by U.S. 441, White Oak Drive, and Old Macon Highway.
|Graham LeasingRezone I|
Building Inside Blue To Be Demolished
Graham Leasing is seeking to rezone two of those properties to build three self-storage units.
Frank Pittman, representing Graham Leasing, told the Planning Commission on Monday that the company plans to demolish the existing building sitting on 2.6 acres that is accessible both from White Oak Drive and Old Macon Highway.
It also plans to add one building to the now undeveloped small triangle where U.S. 441 and Old Macon Highway intersect.
The rezone request does not does not involve the existing building on a one-acre lot at the corner of White Oak Drive and Old Macon Highway, also owned by Graham Leasing, or the existing building on 3.1 acres fronting on Old Macon Highway.
According to state corporate records, Eschol D. Graham LLC is located in the existing building fronting on Old Macon Highway that will be retained. Summer Conner is the registered agent for the corporation.
The Planning Commission held separate public hearings on the two rezone requests of Graham Leasing, beginning with the larger property with the building that will be demolished.
Six citizens spoke against the first request, and seven, several of whom also spoke against the first rezone, spoke against the second.
Most of those who spoke live in the residential development along Rockinwood Drive, Sunnyside Drive, and Ivywood Drive.
Mike Hawn said the self-storage was not a good use of the larger tract.
Jeff Deroshia said the larger development would create traffic problems.
Elmer Stancil cited noise pollution and said the storage facility would not add any jobs.
“How many jobs is a mini-warehouse going to create?” he asked.
Peter Steckel was concerned about light pollution.
Second Rezone Request For Self-Storage
In the second hearing, for the smaller parcel, Deroshia raised concerns about traffic congestion.
|Graham Leasing Rezone II|
New Building To Be Built Inside Blue
Hawn said the proposed use is “not in keeping with a residential neighborhood, which is what we are there.”
Mallory Moye said she was concerned about the new traffic from the facility, which would make the location “dangerous on top of an already dangerous situation.”
She also questioned the need for another storage facility in the county.
“Every single vote yes on these new developments is a vote to turn us into Gwinnett County,” Steckel said when he returned to the podium for the second hearing. “We are already three-fourths of the way there.”
“Would you all want to be living in Gwinnett County now?” he asked. “You all are the ones, with every vote yes on these new developments, that’s what you all are turning us into.”
After citizens had spoken in the second hearing, Hunt responded to Steckel.
|Steckel (At Podium) In Split Screen From Zoom|
Commission In Left Panel
“I’ll just point out that we all volunteer for this job because we too also want to control growth,” he said.
“But we also are here to protect owner’s rights and make sure that they abide by the codes that we have on the books and make sure that we are not making decisions that are a little too heated,” he continued.
“I will also remind you before we bring it up here for any more questions and then a vote that the Board of Commissioners, who you vote in and vote out, whatever, they have the final decision,” Hunt said.
“We are only an advisory board to their actual job,” he said. “So you will need to go through this one more time before this matter is done.”
The vote for the rezone of the larger parcel was 8 to 0.
Commission Member Mike Floyd voted against the second rezone for the smaller property, which passed 7 to 1.
Athens College of Ministry
In 2017, the Board of Commissioners approved a rezone of 114 acres that had been a golf course in the far eastern part of the county, on the eastern side of the Oconee River, where Oconee, Clarke and Oglethorpe counties meet.
Athens College of Ministry proposed to use the land for a campus that ultimately could accommodate 750 students.
Jim Warnes, representing the College, told the Commission on Monday night that nothing had been done since that time because of a lack of funds.
The College is seeking a revision of the 2017 rezone to allow for no more than six sites for the temporary parking and use of recreational vehicles.
The proposal is for the RV sites to be used to house volunteer professional workers who are assisting in the construction of improvements to the site, housing for visitors participating in college-sponsored activities, and persons attending retreats on the college campus.
Warnes said the College wanted the RV sites to be permanent, but the Oconee County planning staff recommends that the sites “shall be temporary with removal following the completion of campus construction.”
Six residents of the residential neighborhood that was developed as part of the failed golf course spoke in opposition.
|Tatum (At Podium) In Split Screen From Zoom|
Warnes At Right; Commission In Left Panel
Zach Wood said the request never appeared in the 2017 rezone and it would create unwanted noise.
Mitch Matthews said a six-site RV park was not compatible with the surrounding area and construction workers should use a hotel.
Beth Tatum said no one is taking care of the property at present and it is being used as a dump site.
“It is a big dump ground,” she said. “It is not policed.”
“I hope that the College makes it,” she said. “I sincerely do. But I’ve seen everything change, and I’ve not seen the property cared for like I would think it should have been cared for.”
Warnes And Vote
Warnes, responding to the citizens, said the College paid about $1 million for the property “and it has been paying down that note. It is down to about $600,000.”
“This will be developed in phases,” he continued. It will cost $15 to $20 million to build out the full campus, he added.
The first phase is a deceleration lane, which has been approved, he said. “It is out for bid.”
The next phase will be infrastructure, which will cost about $750,000, he said. “We have to raise that money.”
Warnes acknowledged the problem of dumping on the site and said “I don’t know any way that is feasible, short of building a fence around the property, which would be cost prohibitive, to prevent the kind of thing these neighbors are talking about.”
The Commission voted 5 to 3 to recommend approval of the rezone request for the RV sites.
Scott Green, Nathan Byrd, Matt Elder, Stephen Goad, and Gavin Jordan voted in favor.
Jeff Burks, Floyd, and Nick Hobbs voted against the positive recommendation.
The video below is recorded from Zoom.