Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends That Board Of Commissioners Deny Request For Dental Office In Mars Hill Subdivision

***Commission Approves Two Other Commercial Projects***

The Oconee County Planning Commission, in a 4 to 2 vote Monday night, recommended that the county commissioners reject the request by Dr. Brent and Mary Lynn Nail that they they be allowed to move their dental office to a 3.1 acre residential lot in the Oakridge subdivision on Mars Hill Road.

Commission Member Chris Herring, who made the motion to deny the request, said the county should not allow the Nails to tear down an existing home on the lot so they can build a commercial facility particularly when other commercial property is available to them.

Commission Member Matt Elder, who made an unsuccessful motion for approval of the rezone and then voted against the denial motion of Herring, said the lot the Nails want to rezone currently is residential, but the county’s Future Development Map designates it as suitable for commercial development.

In the first of four rezone requests heard on Monday, the Planning Commission recommended 5 to 1 that the Board of Commissioners approve a request by the Milner Group of Lawrenceville to rezone 6.0 acres at the corner of Mars Hill Road and Julian Drive for an office park.

The Planning Commission next unanimously recommended approval of separate requests by the Chambers Family Partnership of Athens to downzone 16.1 acres on Meriweather Drive for a six-lot residential subdivision and to rezone 8.7 acres on Jennings Mill Road for an office complex.

The Board of Commissioners will take up these four rezone requests at its 6 p.m. meeting on June 6 at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

At that meeting, the Board of Commissioners also will hear two requests by the Nails that the Planning Commission did not address on Monday, per county zoning procedures.

The Nails are seeking a special exception application to allow the single access point to the proposed dental office from Hollow Creek Lane, a residential street, and another special exception to allow for 29 parking spaces, rather than the 14 that would be allowed under county zoning regulations.

Milner Request

Clayton Hunnicutt from Carter Engineering told the Planning Commission that the current owner of the vacant 6.0-acre property at Julian Drive and Mars Hill Road operates a printing business in Gwinnett County and wishes to move it to Oconee County.

Taylor Speaking On Milner Group RezoneRequest

Hunnicutt did not identify the current owner, and the Carter and Planning Department documents list both Seisas G. Milner III as the owner, as well as Lifemark Development LLC of Watkinsville. The Milner Group, an insurance agency in Gwinnett County, is listed as the owner on the county staff report.

Hunnicutt said the submitted representative architectural drawings of a building with the name Milner Group across the top is the building of the owner who wishes to move his printing business to Oconee County.

Hunnicutt said the 30,000 square foot warehouse “will not operate in the true sense of a warehouse” with large trucks and deliveries. A portion of the warehouse will have offices, he said, with printing equipment and a storage area for printing materials.

Ian Taylor was the only person other than Hunnicutt who spoke at the public hearing on the rezone request, and Taylor said access to the warehouse and two office buildings was going to be via Julian Drive, which, under current plans, will fly over SR 316 without providing access to that road.

“That’s really my concern,” Taylor said, “What’s happening with the warehouse and the traffic off Julian Drive.”

Oconee County Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Guy Herring said that, since Mars Hill Road does not allow through truck traffic, trucks will have to turn right from Julian Drive onto Mars Hill Road to reach U.S. 78.

Hunnicutt told Planning Commission Member Herring that the two office buildings do not have known tenants at this time.

Commission Member Herring voted against the motion to recommend approval of the rezone, with the other five voting members recommending approval.

Chambers Family Request For Residential Subsdivison

Jeff Carter from Carter Engineering told the Planning Commission that the 16.6 acres that the Chambers Family wants to rezone originally was part of Jennings Mill Planned Unit Development in 1995 and had “at least 16 or 17 residential lots” that were zoned for two-family residential (R-2) and multi-family residential development (R-3).

The current plan is to change the zoning of the acreage to single family residential (R-1) with six lots with access from Meriweather Drive and Chambers Court.

Five citizens signed up to speak at the hearing, and most expressed confusion over what was being proposed.

Cynthia Cone said she signed up as opposed “but I was going by the proposal that was submitted and not by the proposal that was given tonight. We’ve gotten information that was different from what was presented tonight.”

“If the proposal is to redesign this as R-1, that’s fine with us,” she said.

“I originally opposed this,” George Cone said, “because the placards that had been sent out originally said from R-2 to R-3, and today’s proposal was for R-1. So we are in support of that.”

“This is the third set of signs that have been placed out there,” Cone said. “As we came here, the proposal that we saw online still referred to it as R-2, R-3. I’m just saying that as a member of the community we can only go with what’s online.”

The Commission members did not ask Carter or the county planning staff to respond to the confusion of the citizens and voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezone request.

Chambers Family Request For Business Park

Carter next said that the Chambers Family Partnership is requesting the rezone of 8.7 acres on Jennings Mill Road that abuts the 16.6 acres just discussed from its current agricultural and two-family residential classification to Office Institutional Professional (OIP).

Carter said the goal is to construct an office complex consisting of six buildings of various sizes, with part of the facility to be used for medical offices. Access will be from Jennings Mill Road.

Kristine McHaffey spoke in favor of the proposal, and Jay Sultan and George Cone raised concerns about the traffic impact of the project.

Cone said traffic on Jennings Mill Road has doubled since the opening of Costco on Plaza Parkway, across SR LOOP 10 from the proposed development.

Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Herring said a recommended condition of the rezone is that the developer conduct a traffic impact analysis and that recommendations from that analysis be incorporated into the site and construction plan for the business park.

Carter said his client objected to another condition listed by the planning staff requiring that “To be in keeping with surrounding office developments, pitched hip roofs shall be incorporated on each building.”

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezone request in a unanimous vote, with the conditions as listed by the planning staff.

Nail Request

Dakota Carruthers, Entitlements Manager with Parker Poe law firm in Atlanta, spoke on behalf of the rezone request by the Nails at the meeting on Monday.

Carruthers Inset (Right) And Zoning Map
Proposed Dental Site In Yellow Border

Carruthers made a very personal case for the Nails, saying “Brent and Mary Lynn” will be forced to move from their existing Athens Oconee Dentistry at 1285 Virgil Langford Road because the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to build a west-bound on ramp from the Oconee Connector to SR 316 through their property.

“They love that property. They put so much time and work into it,” she said. “It is a beautiful property.”

Carruthers then referred to the county’s Future Development Map and mistakenly said that the lot on Mars Hill Road that the Nails want to use for their relocated office is “zoned Regional Center Character Area.”

The Land Use Map is not a zoning map, and the lot that the Nails wish to purchase from the Hales is zoned AR (Agricultural Residential District). The Nails are seeking to rezone it Office Institutional Profession (OIP), which allows for a dental office.

“It is really meant for and allowed for medical and professional offices, even dental offices,” Carruthers continued, again referring to the Future Development Map.

“This is a small neighborhood commercial use that can really blend in with the residential that is behind there,” she said.

“You guys have done this map correctly,” she said. “You have the office, commercial right up on the major roads, Mars Hill, Oconee Connector, and then you’ve got your residential to the back.”

Zoning Map

Carruthers then referred to the actual zoning map and said “this is an existing residential property with residential to the back and then B-1 and B-2 and OIP all around.”

B-1 (General Business) and B-2 (Highway Business are across Mars Hill Road, but there is no OIP in close proximity to the Nail site.

“Brent and Mary Lynn want to make sure they do everything by the code,” Carruthers said, “including that of the Mars Hill Overlay, which this does fall into, except for two variances, that we’ll be requesting.”

Those are for access to the dental office via a resident street, Hollow Creek Lane, and to allow for 29 parking spaces, rather than the 14. The Board of Commissioners will consider these at is meeting on June 6.

Carruthers said the Nails want to replicate their existing building, saying “it is residential style, so it blends right in with any nearby residential properties. It’s beautiful, inside and out.”

Citizen Response

No one spoke in favor of the request, but five persons spoke in opposition.

Sam Strickland, from the Oak Ridge subdivision, which includes the Hale property, said “this is a pocket neighborhood” of about 33 homes, and the only entrance and exit onto Mars Hill Road is via Hollow Creek Lane.

“It is not easily in or out. Never has been,” he said. “Traffic volumes being high like they are now, its dangerous.”

“We’ve got a small neighborhood,” he said. We’ve got one exit we can get out of,” he continued. “I don’t see any way that going from residential, which it has been since before the neighborhood was actually built, to any other zoning would be appropriate.”

Ian Taylor followed, and he, as did Strickland, expressed sympathy with the Nails regarding the GDOT required relocation.

“I’ve tried to get on board with this,” Taylor said. “But what they’re looking to do is knock down a house that’s there to put this on. And we’ve got plenty of property in Oconee County that you can build on without knocking down residential property.”

“Changing what is part of a neighborhood for a dentist office–I don’t know if this is the right time for that," Taylor said. "You guys just rezoned a bunch of property on the other side there for just this type of development not too long ago.”

Susan Jungles said “taking this from a residential to any type of commercial or business is a slippery slope for us right there. Because the next time somebody’s here they are going to say you let them do it. We’re just right next door. We’re going to do the same thing. And then our neighborhood is gone.”

Carruthers And Board Response

Carruthers, in addressing the concerns expressed by citizens about traffic, said “this is a small, neighborhood service use. This is something that is a benefit to the community.”

Future Development Map Presented By Guy Herring
Proposed Dental Site In Red Border

Carruthers said the proposed new site is less than a mile from the existing office, “so in the greater area we are not creating any further traffic. We’re getting rid of one and putting the same thing in.”

The existing entrance on Hollow Creek Lane, she said, “is ok to accommodate this development.”

Commission Member Herring, referring to the Future Development Map on the screen at the front of the room, said “there are housing on those rectangles. And anybody that is living in that area, Hollow Creek, or the vicinity of that area, has bought and lived in that area with the expectation that those lots already have houses on them.”

“It is not an empty lot,” he continued. “So I have a big issue with tearing down houses in a county that many would say there aren’t enough houses for people to buy, and putting in commercial. And again, there is an alternative for a dental office, including some we may have gone through this evening.”

Commission Member Elder, referring to the Future Development Map, said he had the opposite view.

“We did all of this work to enhance the Mars Hill Road corridor,” he said, “and had all kinds of public participation, all kinds of opportunities for public participation, and this is the outcome, and I think we should stick with what we chose to do.”

Elder then made a motion to recommend approval of the Hale request, and only Stephen Goad voted in favor.

Chris Herring then made the motion to recommend denial of the request, and he was joined by Nathan Byrd, Jeff Burks, and Nick Hobbs in voting in favor of the motion to deny.


The video below is from the Oconee County YouTube channel.

The presentation of the Milner Group request begins at 14:03 in the video.

The presentation of the Chambers Family Partnership rezone begins at 25:54.

The second presentation of Chambers Family Partnership for office use is at 42:58.

The Nail presentation begins at 1:00:15.

I recorded the video on my computer from Zoom and pinned the view differently from what is shown in the county video.

The still images used in the post are from my recording of the meeting.

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