Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Oconee County Board Of Commissioners Turns Down Again Proposal For Shopping Center With Publix On Oconee Connector

***Focus Shifted To Legal Arguments***

Attorney David Ellison, representing Deferred Tax LLC before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night, made it clear his client was not interested in any compromise over the rezone request for a shopping center with a Publix on the Oconee Connector at Mars Hill Road.

“You should approve the rezone as submitted,” he said several times.

Land Planner Ken Beall, also representing Deferred Tax, said the same.

The Board of Commissioners responded by voting unanimously to turn down Deferred Tax LLC, owned by Maxie Price, with no real discussion.

Almost certainly, the county and Price will meet again in court, as Ellison repeatedly said the county’s behavior was unconstitutional.

The Board had turned down an earlier version of the shopping center proposal in 2021.

Unusual Meeting

The presentation by representatives of Price at the meeting on Tuesday night was unusual.

Ellison Before Board 2/7/2023

Normally, the applicant uses the 20 minutes allocated to provide an overview of the project, in this case an 11-lot commercial subdivision on just more than 33 acres on the northwest corner of the Connector and Mars Hill Road.

Included in the proposal is a 9.4-acre-lot for a Publix grocery store and attached shops. Main entrances were to be off the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road.

On Tuesday night, however, attorney Ellison led off and dominated the presentations for the applicant.

His focus was not on the specific plans but on what he said were the legal rights of his client to build the proposed shopping center.

Included was the right to have a full commercial interchange with a signal on the Connector between where Mars Hill Road, Daniells Bridge Road, and the Connector meet and SR. 316.

Ellison was followed by Abdul K. Amer, an engineer hired by Deferred Tax, who said that there would be no safety issues with that intersection as proposed by his client and that the county’s request that a roundabout be installed at an entrance to the shopping center on Mars Hill Road would add to traffic congestion.

Beall followed, holding up documents going back to 1992 that he said documented Price’s right to the full commercial access on the Connector and that argued that the county had made earlier commitments about how the property could be developed.

Speakers Against

Six citizens spoke against the rezone request.

The first of these was Jennifer Walker, from the Bond Crossing subdivision off Mars Hill Road near the proposed development, who has been a spokesperson for much of the opposition to the project through its history.

She said she objected to the three traffic lights that would result between the Mars Hill Road/Daniells Bridge Road intersection with the Oconee Connector.

She also said the property was properly zoned at present and the Deferred Tax request for an expansion of the existing B-2 (Highway Business) into part of the existing B-1 (Business) tract was not needed.

Walker was followed by Wilder Bailey, from that same neighborhood, who said the project doesn’t fit the area and he was concerned about resulting cut-through traffic on Daandra Drive.

Chris Smith from Canyon Creek subdivision on Mars Hill Road west of the proposed development said “Thing change since 30 years ago,” referring to the agreements Ellison and Beall reference.

“If you wait 30 years to do something, too bad,” he added.

Final Three Speakers

Smith was followed by someone who didn’t give his name or address but said he fast food restaurants, allowed in a B-2 zone, “are not a good fit here.”

Zach Sheffield, from Founder’s Grove subdivision off Daniells Bridge Road, said the proposed shopping center “does not fill a public need,” citing the many grocery stores in the area.

“I don’t see how this development works without a fully signaled intersection on the Oconee Connector,” he said.“There is no way that this development works with a fully signaled intersection there on the Oconee Connector.”

Sheffield was followed by Aubrey Cox from the Welbrook Farms subdivision off Daniells Bridge Road.

Cox said the development would produce runoff that would pollute Barber Creek.

The existing stream and wetlands on the property are tributaries to Barber Creek.

Exchange With Commissioners

Board Chair John Daniell led off the questioning of Ellison that followed the public hearing.

Ellison said the existing B-2 tract at the corner of Mars Hill Road and the Connector cannot be developed because of those wetlands. He said the only way to make the project work is to extend the B-2 zoning into the existing B-1 tract.

Daniell also challenged Ellison’s assertion that the county had committed to the signalized access to the Connector Ellison contended it had.

Commissioner Chuck Horton, in a heated exchange with Ellison, said he was concerned about the safety of travel on Mars Hill Road if the project were built.

Horton made the motion to deny the rezone request. Commissioner Mark Saxon seconded.

Commissioner Mark Thomas and Amrey Harden joined them in voting to deny.

The only change from the vote in May of 2021, when the Board turned down the earlier request by Deferred Tax, was that this time, Thomas voted against the request.

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