Sunday, April 23, 2023

Public Hearing On Comprehensive Plan Update On Agenda For Board of Commissioners Meeting On Tuesday

***Fees Charged For School Sports Facilities Also To Be Considered***

In preparing the five-year update to the county’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan, the Oconee County planning staff has conducted 11 focus groups, with five to 10 participants each.

The staff held a Kick Off Meeting at the June Town Hall Meeting, another Kick Off Meeting Public Hearing in July, and a Future Land Use charette in December of 2022.

Last month, the staff held an Open House, both in-person at Veterans Park and virtually, to allow the public to review the drafts of the five-year update.

The staff has received more than 1,400 volunteer responses to an online survey, according to Guy Herring, Director of Planning and Code Enforcement for the county.

On Tuesday, at the Board of Commissioners meeting, the county will hold a public hearing on the document that next goes to Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and the state Department of Community Affairs for review prior to adoption by the Board of Commissioners in June.

General proposed changes in the update include a small increase in the Agriculture Preservation and Rural Places character areas and Updated Short Term Work Plans for the county and each of the four cities listing projects planned or underway.

Also on the agenda for the meeting on Monday is discussion of the Joint Use Agreement proposed by the Oconee County Board of Education that will require the county to increase the fees it pays Oconee County Schools for use of its sports facilities.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Five-Year Update

The state requires the county to update its 2018 Comprehensive Plan, and a completely new plan will be required in 2028.

Click To Enlarge

Herring, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, back in June of last year at the Town Hall meeting kicking off the update defined the Comprehensive Plan as “a policy document that is adopted by the Board of Commissioners.”

“It actually guides decisions related to future development, zoning cases, those types of things,” he continued.

“It establishes a community vision for growth over the next 20 years,” according to Herring. “It coordinates local planning efforts and fulfills requires by the state of Georgia.”

Herring also said that the Comprehensive “is not an actual regulation. It’s not an ordinance for zoning in and of itself.”

“It does not create new regulations or change existing zoning categories, and it doesn’t alter the development rights of a person’s property,” Herring added. 

Applicants for zoning changes are required to refer to the Future Development Map that is part of the Comprehensive Plan.

Process Of Update

Herring said at that June meeting that he needed public input “which helps us prioritize the needs and opportunities. It also helps us establish a community vision for growth and helps us identify desired development patterns.”

The county launched an online survey on June 21. The survey took about 15 minutes to complete and asked about issues relevant to the plan update.

Herring said in an email late on Friday that “We had slightly over 1,400 volunteer survey responses that were used to build the update of the plan.”

Each of the counties four cities–Bishop, Bogart, North High Shoals, and Watkinville–held a focus group, and the county held focus groups on Mars Hill Road, U.S. 78, U.S. 441, the Board of Education, Developers, Design Professionals, and the Oconee Chamber of Commerce.

Citizens were invited to express an interest in being invited to participate in the focus groups.

The charette for stakeholders on future land use was in December.

Open House

The Open House launched on March 29 online.

The online version is still active, providing downloadable version of the Short Term Work Program, a map of the Character Areas, a description of the Character Areas, and a draft of the 2023 Comprehensive Plan Update.

It is possible to leave comments on the documents at a link visible by rotating the image of the virtual room.

Those same materials were available on display at Oconee Veterans Park that same day.

Changes In Update

Herring on Friday identified five changes in the 2018 Comprehensive Plan proposed in the 2023 Update:

1) A small increase was made in the Agriculture Preservation and Rural Places character areas;

2) Certain nodes and corridors were revised by decreasing the character area intensity adjacent to residential uses along Mars Hill Road and U.S. 441;

3) The Technology Gateway character area was replaced with Workplace Center along SR 316;

4) A Public Institutional character area, already included in Watkinsville, was added for the county; and

5) The Short Term Work Programs were updated for all jurisdictions.

Character Area Map

A noticeable difference between the Character Area Map and the Future Development Map in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan is the number of listed Character Areas and the color scheme for the areas

Click To Enlarge

The number of Character Areas is 14 in the 2030 Future Development Map and 19 in the proposed 2023 Oconee County Character Areas Map.

The map in the 2018 document does not include the Character Areas for the county’s four cities, and Herring said on Friday that the number of Character Areas actually is the same.

“We combined Technology Gateway (County) with Workplace Center (Bogart),” he said.

“Workplace Center was only in Bogart and adjacent to the Technology Gateway in the county,” he wrote. “It made sense to combine (these) into one character area.”

“We also broke out Parks/Recreation/Conservation (2018) into Stream/Flood Corridors and Parks/Recreation/Conservation (2023),” he added.

“We did change the character area colors to reflect a more traditional planning approach color scheme with red/pink representing the highest intensity land uses,” Herring added.

Short Term Work Programs

Herring has called the Short Term Work Programs “a five year action plan for implementation” of the Comprehensive Plan Update.

The county's list includes completion of the county’s administrative building, the upgrading of the Calls Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, the decommissioning of the Land Application System site and the conversion of that site into a park, broadband expansion, and completion of the Hog Mountain Road Trail and additional trails in the county.

The Watkinsville plan includes a Historic Preservation Ordinance feasibility study, exploration of a truck bypass, exploration of Rails to Trails opportunity, and development of a downtown master plan.

Bogart’s plans include sidewalks along the Atlanta Highway and South Burson Road to the Bogart Library and Bogart Sports Complex, stormwater improvements throughout the city, and development of a basic street lighting plan for the city.

North High Shoals has listed improvements to Hillsboro Road, an update of its zoning map, solar panels at Town Hall, revision of the city street light plan, and installation of an electric car charging station at Town Hall.

Bishop’s plans are roadway and sidewalk maintenance, construction of a community picnic shelter, and funding maintenance and promotion of the community center.

Next Step

In 2018, the county contracted with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission to produce the Comprehensive Plan.

The county is doing the update internally.

Herring said that his office also used the services of WSP Environmental Solutions and Infrastructure Inc., the engineering firm on contract to the county, “to augment county staff on the generation of the update document.”

After the public hearing on Tuesday, Herring said he and his staff will “incorporate any final comments and then transmit the draft document to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for review.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to adopt the update in June.

Joint Use Agreement

Oconee County Schools Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff told Board of Education members at their retreat in January that he planned to move ahead with charging the county’s Parks and Recreation Department the full user fee charged to nonprofits.

LeDuff presented the Board with a proposed new three-year Joint Use Agreement with the county that would result in the county paying 100 percent of the usage fee charged to nonprofits at the end of the contract, rather than the current 60 percent.

Until three years ago, the county and the schools shared facilities without either charging the other, and the county still does not charge the schools for use of county facilities.

The Agreement before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night states that the Board of Commissioners “will provide the facilities operated by the BOC for BOE athletic activities at the cost determined by the BOC.”

Appendix To Agreement

“The BOE will provide the facilities operated by the BOE for BOC athletics activities at the non-profit cost determined by the BOE,” according to the agreement.

For the first year of the agreement, the Board of Education would charge 75 percent of the nonprofit rate.

That percentage would go to 90 in 2024 and 100 percent in the last year of the contract, 2025.

The contract would end on June 30, 2026.

County Response

The agreement contains, as an appendix, the current fee schedule for Oconee County Schools facilities.

The hourly rate for high school gyms is $50 per hour, and the cost of middle school and elementary school gyms is $30 per hour.

Required supervision is an additional $40 per hour, and custodial service is $25 per hour.

Lisa Davol, Parks and Recreation Director, in a memo to the Board dated for the meeting on Tuesday, said “As increased school facility usage fees are implemented, it will increase the Parks and Recreation operation budget for Rental of Land and Buildings.”

“Parks and Recreation additional school fee for programs that utilize school facilities will cover the additional school charges,” she wrote.

At present, the Parks and Recreation Department labels this additional charge a “school use fee” it its list of charges for programs.

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