Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Oconee County Commissioners Say Two Lots On Mars Hill Road Should Remain Residential

***Budget, Comprehensive Plan, Joint Use Agreement Approved***

Oconee County commissioners on Tuesday night turned down two requests to convert residential lots on Mars Hill Road to commercial development.

The Board of Commissioners, in a 3 to 1 vote, turned down a request to rezone 6.0 acres at the corner of Mars Hill Road and Julian Drive for an office park.

In a 2 to 1 vote, the Board rejected a request to rezone 3.1 acres on Mars Hill Road at Hollow Creek Lane for a dental office.

The property at Mars Hill Road and Julian Drive is vacant, but it is zoned residential, and the property at Mars Hill Road and Hollow Creek Lane is zoned residential and has a house on it.

In both votes, Commissioner Mark Thomas opposed the denial of the zoning change. Commissioner Chuck Horton recused himself in the vote on the request for the dental office.

In other action on Tuesday night, the Board unanimously approved requests 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 also adopted a $75 million Fiscal Year 2024 Budget for the county that is based on a 1 mill reduction in property taxes and approved an update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

The Board also gave final approval to a Joint Use Agreements with the Board of Education that will remove fees the Board of Education has been charging the county for use of school sports facilities.

The Board of Education approved the agreement on Monday.

Warehouse Request

Brian Kimsey from Carter Engineering told the commissioners on Tuesday that Chad Millner, who owns the 6 acres at Mars Hill Road and Julian Drive, was seeking to rezone the property so he could move his printing operation from Lawrenceville to that site.

Screen Shot Horn Before Board 6/6/2023

The property is currently zoned R-1 (Single Family Residential), and Millner wanted to make it OBP (Office Business Park).

Millner proposed constructing a 30,000 square foot warehouse for his printing business and two 11,000 square foot offices. Access was to be by Julian Drive.

The 16.5 acres north of the proposed park is zoned OIP (Office Institutional Professional) and is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The parcel to the west, across Julian Drive, is split AG (Agricultural) and R-1 (Single Family Residential). The AG parcel is occupied by Athens Church of Christ.

The property on the south side, across Mars Hill Road, is residential.

Citizen Response

Floyd Horn, who owns one of the residential properties on the south across Mars Hill Road from the proposed warehouse and business park, was the only citizen to speak at the public hearing on the request.

Horn told the commissioners that the development was incompatible with the area.

“It’s residential,” Horn said. “I’d like to keep it that way.”

The Planning Commission on May 15 had recommended approval of the rezone request, in a 5 to 1 vote.

On Tuesday, Thomas made a motion to approve the rezone, but it died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Amrey Harden made the motion to deny and received a second from Commissioner Horton.

Commissioner Mark Saxon joined in the vote to deny.

Dental Office

The Planning Commission had voted 4 to 2 to recommend denial of the request by Dr. Brent and Mary Lynn Nail that they be allowed to move their dental office to the 3.1 acre residential lot on Mars Hill Road in the Oakridge subdivision.

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

As she had at the Planning Commission, Carruthers made a very personal case for the Nails, saying they 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.

Carruthers said the Nails “are in a tough spot here where we are in a very tight time line with GDOT. We’re not given a lot of time to look for properties.”

“This is not an addition,” Carruthers argued about the move to the Mars Hill property. “This is not a new development that we’re trying to add. This is just replacement property for something that is already existing in the community.”

Citizen Opposition

Five citizens spoke against the rezone, arguing that it was an unnecessary conversion of a residential property to commercial use and that it would create additional traffic on a congested section of Mars Hill Road.

Screen Shot Carruthers Before Board 6/6/2023

Ian Taylor said “this rezone request is not simply a rezone from an empty property from R-1 to commercial. It includes the destruction of a house, which is by no means blighted. It is one of the nicer properties in the area.”

Michael Costello said “these lots should not be taken from the intended purpose so we can continue with more office and commercial area.”

Commissioner Horton had stepped out of the meeting room as the Nail rezone hearing began. He said he is a patient of Dr. Nail.

Commissioner Saxon made the motion to deny the request. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Harden.

Thomas again voted against the motion to deny.

Residential Lots, Business Park

Jeff Carter of Carter Engineering told the Board of Commissioners he was representing Dr. Thomas and Michelle McCormack in the pair of rezone requests of property off Jennings Mill Road.

The first request was for 16.6 acres that originally was part of Jennings Mill Planned Unit Development in 1995 and is zoned for two-family residential (R-2) and multi-family residential development (R-3).

The request of the Board was to rezone the acreage to single family residential (R-1) with six lots with access from Meriweather Drive and Chambers Court.

The second request was for rezone of 8.7 acres on Jennings Mill Road that abuts the 16.6 acres from its current agricultural and two-family residential classification to Office Institutional Professional (OIP).

Carter said that Dr. McCormack plans to move his medical practice, currently at 1361 Jennings Mill Road, to the office park.

No citizen spoke in opposition to either of the requests, and the Board voted without discussion to approve them.

The Planning Commission had unanimously recommended approval.

Budget Hearing

Prior to the meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners held the second of two public hearings on the county’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget.

Melissa Braswell, Oconee County Finance Director, said the budget had changed only slightly from the first hearing held by the commissioners on May 23.

No citizen spoke at that first public hearing, and none came forward to speak on Tuesday night.

Braswell said she had modified the budget to reflect the changes resulting from the Joint Use Agreement between the County and the Board of Education on use of their respective sports facilities.

Braswell also said that the county’s fee schedule had been updated to remove the School Use Fee from the fees charged participants in county sports recreational programs that will be at sports facilities at Oconee County Schools facilities.

The Board adopted the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget without discussion.

The Board also took the final step of adopting the update of the county’s Comprehensive Plan without discussion.

Oconee County Director of Planning and Code Enforcement told the Board that the Georgia Department of Community Affairs had been reviewed and approved the update to the plan.


The video below is embedded from the Oconee County YouTube Channel.

The hearing on the budget begins at 9:55 in the video.

Zoning hearings begin at 19:26 in the video.

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