Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Public Hearings Set For Rezones Near UNG, At Manders Crossing, In Far Northwest Of County, And On Cole Springs Road

***Planning Commission Meeting Monday***

Bob Bishop wants to rezone parts of the 17.8-acre parcel he owns abutting the Oconee Campus of the University of North Georgia to create two lots for residential development.

The Brothers Company of Atlanta wants to rezone the vacant lot at the corner of Cliff Dawson Road and Mars Hill Road at Manders Crossing to build a single-story, 10,600 foot retail building serving between one and three tenants.

Smith Planning Group wants a special use permit to convert a lot inside a 415-acre, currently dormant, residential subdivision off Choyce Johnson Road in the far northwest of the county for use as a nearly 10-acre amenity lot.

Archie Crenshaw wants to carve 10 acres off an 105-acre parcel he owns on Cole Springs Road to create a minor residential subdivision of four lots, each fronting on Cole Spring Road, with each lot to be transferred to one of his grandchildren.

All four of these rezone applications will be before the Oconee County Planning Commission, which is scheduled to hold hearings on the four requests when it meets at 7 p.m. on April 17 at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

The Planning Commission is advisory to the Board of Commissioners, which is scheduled to take up the four rezones at its 6 p.m. meeting on May 2, also at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

The county planning staff has recommended approval of all four of the rezone requests.

Bishop’s Request

Bishop, who owns most of the land surrounding the University of North Georgia campus, also is planning for future generations in his rezone request, according to the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement report.

Bishop Farms Parkway With Rezone Sign

That report labels the rezone request as “for estate planning purposes.”

At present, the 17.8-acres at the southeast corner of Bishop Farms Parkway and Experiment Station Road is zoned AG (Agricultural District). The parcel stretches from Experiment Station Road to the campus of the University of North Georgia.

Bishop is seeking to carve out two lots, one 3.8 acres in size and the other 4.0 acres in size, and zone them AR-3 (Agricultural Residential 3 Acre District).

The remaining 10 acres, closest to the University of North Georgia campus, is to remain zoned AG.

The rezone is necessary because the AG District cannot be applied to property of less than 5 acres in size, and Bishop wants to carve off the two smaller lots of 3.8 and 4.0 acres.

Bishop did not present any specific plans for the property, and the county planning staff report states that “No construction of residences is proposed at this time.”

The 3.8-acre parcel is at the intersection of Bishop Farms Parkway and Experiment Station Road, where commercial development already exists in the form of the First American Bank and Trust Company. The second lot abuts the 3.8 acre parcel.

Manders Crossing

The vacant 1.4 acre parcel at the corner of Cliff Dawson Road and Mars Hill Road already is zoned B-1 (General Business District), and the Brothers Company LLC of Atlanta is seeking to revise the square footage of the original rezone.

Labeled Map From Brothers Company Rezone

The submitted site plan shows a 10,640 square foot building divided into three units called the Retail Shops At Cliff Dawson. Thirty-six parking spaces are shown along three sides of the building.

The building will be full-height brick on the front and sides, and the roof, as per the Mars Hill Overlay requirements, will be a hip style with of minimum pitch of 6 to 1, according to the narrative submitted by Brothers Company.

According to that narrative, “The Goal is to lease the space to qualified, community serving, tenant(s) (likely between 1 and 3 tenants) that meets the intent of the zoning.”

Bill Mixon, an attorney with Brothers Company, said in telephone conversation on March 7 that “medical is the preferred use.”

The property was rezoned from AR (Agricultural Residential) to its current B-1 in 2000 along with the adjoining property subsequently developed as the existing Manders Crossing Shopping Center. Building size for the undeveloped lot was set at 9,600 square feet.

The undeveloped lot currently is owned by Moose Land-Mars Hill LLC, 365 Gaines School Suite A, Athens. That also is the location of Locos Franchising Company Inc.

According to county tax records, Moose Land-Mars Hill LLC purchased the land from Mars Hill Investment Group LLC, which purchased the land, including the part that is now Manders Crossing Shopping Center, from Mrs. J.R. Manders in 2001.

North Haven Subdivision

The 415 acres off Choyce Johnson Road was rezoned to AR (Agriculture Residential) in 2005 for what was then called Oconee River Club on the Apalachee.

Labeled Map From Smith Planning Group Rezone

The property consists of two tracts that are bordered by Potter Road, Choyce Johnson Road, a small section of U.S. 78, and a long stretch of the Apalachee River.

An unused section of Treadwell Bridge Road runs through the property, and the 9.8 acres that the Smith Planning Group is seeking to designate as an amenity area is located on the river at the end of what was Treadwell Bridge Road.

Smith is using the name North Haven for the development. The zoning narrative says the amenity area will include a pool, pool cabana, restrooms, pickleball courts, playground, parking area, lawn, and walking trail.

Condition 16 of that 2005 rezone stated that the “Developer shall provide for an amenity lot within the development” and is required to obtain “approval of the site plan for this amenity lot through a conditional use permit from the Board of Commissioners.”

The most recent report of the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department on Residential Development Growth, used by Oconee County Schools for planning, lists the Oconee River Club on the Apalachee with 220 approved lots of 1 acre or larger.

The project is designated as Inactive and will remain so until a permit is issued, according to Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Director Guy Herring.

The 415 acres went through a variety of hands after 2005 and were purchased by the current owner, EA3 Investments LLC of Duluth, from the Community Bank in 2010.

Crenshaw’s Grandchildren

Ken Beall, a land planner with Beall and Company, is representing Crenshaw in the rezone of 10.0 acres from the 104.8 acre tract on Cole Springs Road, one of 13 properties Crenshaw owns in that part of the county through Triple C Family Limited Partnership.

Labeled Map From Crenshaw Rezone

Crenshaw is a retired educator, religious leader and businessman who developed a management training company, high rise apartment complexes for senior citizens, nursing homes, and restaurant companies.

The wooded 104.8 acre parcel is opposite the entrance to Lane Creek Drive and Creek Golf Club.

The 10 acres to be separated are on the northwestern part of the tract.

According to the narrative Beall submitted with the rezone request, upon approval of the rezone, each of the lots “will be transferred to a grandchild of Archie B. Crenshaw, President and General Partner of Triple C. Services, Inc."

“The lot owners will build individual quality homes with a minimum square footage of 2,500 square feet,” the narrative states. “All home construction will be ‘stick-built’ on site. All lots will be fee simple ownership.”

Each lot will have access to Cole Springs Road via an individual driveway, the narrative states.

University of North Georgia

County officials have repeatedly said publicly that the University of North Georgia has wanted to expand its Oconee County Campus.

According to its official enrollment report to the University System of Georgia, UNG enrolled 18,046 students across its five campuses in the fall of 2022.

In addition to its main campus in Gainesville, UNG also has campuses in Blue Ridge, Cumming, and Dahlonega, as well as in Oconee County.

The Official University System of Georgia report does not list enrollments by campus, but according to the 2022 edition of The Oconee County Guide, published by The Oconee Enterprise, the Oconee Campus had 2,103 students enrolled last year.

The obstacle to expansion, according to county officials, has been a second entrance to the campus in addition to the one on Experiment Station Road.

At present, Bishop Farms Parkway runs parallel to the U.S. 441 bypass from Experiment Station Road to the UNG campus and from Thornwood Drive to New High Shoals.

The county has long had plans to connect those two parts of Bishop Farms Parkway, which will require crossing wetlands around the headwaters of a branch of Calls Creek.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said on March 10 that county plans for the roadway are “currently on the shelf due to construction cost.”

Surrounding Property

The 14 acres which make up the UNG Oconee Campus originally were part of the Bishop Farm property and were home to Truett-McConnell University, a private religious university based in Cleveland, Ga.

Labeled Map From Bishop Rezone

The University of Georgia Research Foundation purchased the campus in 2003 from Truitt-McConnell, according to county tax records, and transferred the property to the University System of Georgia in 2008.

With one exception, all of the property abutting the existing campus is owned by KBB LLC, with Bob Bishop as the registered agent.

The most accessible of those properties is the 17.9 acre parcel Bishop is seeking to subdivide and partially rezone.

The exception is a 14.5 acre wooded parcel also owned by the University System of Georgia but technically a part of the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research Center.

When that property was transferred to the University of Georgia from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012, the university agreed to use it for agriculture and natural resources research for 25 years.

That property lies between the 17.9 acres Bishop is seeking to subdivide and U.S. 441 bypass. It does abut the existing campus of the University of North Georgia.


The University of North Georgia has experienced sharp drops in enrollment since 2020, falling from19,793 students that year to 18,985 in 2021 and 18,046 in 2022.

The Enterprise did not report enrollments for the Oconee Campus in 2021, but the reported enrollment in 2020 was 2,502. That number dropped to 2,103 in the fall of 2022.

University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs has said UNG will have to absorb $13 million in tuition revenue losses and state funding formula reductions related to credit hour declines occurring between Fiscal Year 2021 and Fiscal Year 2025.

On top of that, the Fiscal Year 2024 budget the Georgia General Assembly passed March 29 will result in a $66 million cut to the University System of Georgia's (USG) formula funding,

That includes a projected $2.54 million decrease in state funding to the University of North Georgia, according analysis by the university.

“The severity of the budget cut passed by the legislature this week will further impact teaching budgets, staffing and student services as the university seeks to reduce costs,” the UNG report stated.

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