Monday, February 19, 2024

North High Shoals Mayor And Town Council Scheduled To Consider Deannexation Request At Monday’s Meeting

***Voted To Table Request After January Hearing***

The North High Shoals Mayor and Council is scheduled to take up at its regular meeting on Monday the request by Townley Family Partnership LLLP to deannex 175.8 acres between Jefferson Road and the Apalachee River from the Town.

Action on the deannexation petition is on the agenda for the Feb. 19 meeting following the unanimous vote of the Council at a meeting on Jan. 22 to table action on the Townley request.

The Board made that decision after a contentious public hearing on the deannexation request during which attorney David Ellison, representing Townley, accused the Town of sending out a public notice about the deannexation that was “completely inaccurate” and “inflamatory and prejudicial.”

Ellison said his client wanted to leave the Town because its zoning laws were “unduly burdensome and unlawful.”

He criticized the Mayor and members of the Council for speaking against the deannexation before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners and threatened to raise a “Constitutional claim” if the Mayor and Council did not approve the Townley request.

Ellison said that the six citizens who spoke in opposition to the deannexation were mistaken in their focus on site plans that Townley had submitted for a 32-lot subdivision because “we withdrew that and that’s not actually part of the record.”

When one citizen held up the site plans, Ellison objected and tried to get the document removed from the record.

Near the end of that 70-minute long meeting, Town Attorney Joe Reitman recommended that the Council table the request so he could have more time to review Ellison’s objections, which Ellison had presented in a 119-page document submitted only a few hours before the Mayor and Council met.

Brief Introduction

Mayor Stephen Goad gave a summary of events leading up to the public hearing on the deannexation petition at the start of the Jan. 22 meeting.

Ellison 1/22/2024

In August of 2023, Goad said, Carter Engineering, representing Townley Family Properties, approached the previous mayor, Violet Dawe, and North High Shoals Building Inspecter Norman Wheeler “about a 30-lot subdivision named Apalachee Estates.”

“A verbal agreement was made to annex approximately 35 acres into the Town of North High Shoals for clarity of geographical line,” Goad said.

“After approximately two days, the rezone signs that had been put up were taken down,” he said.

“Shortly thereafter Fortson, Bentley, and Griffin law firm approached the Town of New High Shoals with a newly created law, newly created Georgia Legislature House Bill 374, requesting that approximately 175 acres be deannexed, removing it from the Town of North High Shoals,” Goad said.

Ellison is with Fortson, Bentley, and Griffin, an Athens law firm.

Goad then told the roughly 30 citizens present that he would allow persons in favor of and opposed to the deannexation an opportunity to speak, starting with Ellison.

Rough Start

“We object to that brief history because we think it is incomplete,” Ellison said as he came to the podium. “Our client has no immediate plans to develop this property for any sort of residential subdivision.”

“Right now, this is about 401 acres,” he said. “About 30 percent is within the Town. Seventy percent of it is unincorporated Oconee County. The Oconee County portion is zoned AG. The Town portion is A1.”

“And the goal for our client is to continue to use this property for agricultural purposes,” he said. “This property was originally purchased for purposes of a hayfield behind Lane Creek.”

“Unfortunately what led this to a head is where we need to have one zoning agency oversee this whole property,” he said. “And that includes the fact that we need to put a new bridge on there. We need to put a road, and we recently have gotten approval from EPD to build a pond on this property.”

“For all of these uses, we have to get a land disturbance permit,” he said. “And Oconee County is the local issuing Authority. The Town is not.

“And so we would like to have one jurisdiction with complete oversight control over this property,” Ellison said. “Because otherwise it would be unduly burdensome for our client to have to deal with two different jurisdictions that may have different interpretations and competing objectives.”

Points Of Contention

Ellison spoke for a little more than 15 minutes, and he became increasingly critical as he talked.

“We would have the right in the future to potentially have residential uses but we continue to have the right for livestock, ag, other purposes that we are currently doing now,” he said. “We don’t want to be part of the Town zoning ordinances.”

“We think that they are unduly burdensome and unlawful,” he said.

“We are also concerned because looking back in the history for the past few years, you all’s agendas and minutes, it appears you all have been contemplating ordinances that would regulate livestock, timber and other agricultural uses,” he said.

“And so we are concerned about being part of a community that would limit our intended agricultural use,” he said.

“We are also concerned because we don’t think your zoning ordinances comply with the Zoning Procedures Law,” he said. “We would rather be with Oconee County that has a modern Unified Development Code and an experienced resource staff to administer it.”

Role Assigned Council

Ellison also became very directive as he spoke.

Ellison With Council 1/22/2024

“You all are acting in a quasi-judicial capacity because you are making an individualized determination for one person based on a set of facts,” Ellison said.

“Let’s look at some of the facts here,” he said. “So there’s no evidence of detriment of the area that would remain within the Town because this property lies at the edge of the Town.”

“There is no infrastructure, no services, nothing on the Townley property,” he said. “There is no evidence of increased cost or other burden of providing municipal services or any evidence that any municipal services will increase.”

“There is no evidence that it will be economically or practically unfeasible for the Town to continue functioning,” he said. “I understand there are some concerns about the historic boundaries of the Town will be altered, but this property is not historic.”

“If you deny us, it will be a Constitutional claim,” Ellison said. “You need not get to that Constitutional claim if you apply the statute based upon the facts.”

“A fair and impartial body, looking at this evidence, would find that we have met the standard,” he said, referring to the requirements of the statute. “Because you all have the heavy burden in this instance. And we don’t think it can be met.”

Citizen Comments

Six citizens spoke at the public hearing, with most expressing concern about development and specifically about traffic on Town roadways produced by development of the Townley property.

Callaway 1/22/2024

Joy Sizemore, who lives on Jefferson Road, said she was concerned about additional traffic on the road, saying “At this point, I do not feel safe walking.”

“We all saw the site plans previously,” Jacob Callaway said. “It seems that really is, in my mind, the path that this wants to go.”

When Callaway held up those plans, Ellison objected, saying “this is not actually part of our petition.”

Reitman said the plans should be part of the record.

“North High Shoals is truly a special and unique part of the history of Oconee County and deserves additional consideration where this is concerned,” Felicia Kautz said.

“If the Townley property is deannexed,” it will bring about many detrimental and cascading changes to North High Shoals, which will fully impact the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,” she said.

Judicial Versus Legislative

When Ellison had finished his comments, Mayor Goad said “I do want to note, that this is a public hearing, and it is legislative.”

Goad, Holding Document Submitted By Ellison 1/22/2024

Reitman returned to that issue when he spoke at the end of comments by the citizens and by Ellison.

“My assessment of the statute is that you all act in the legislative capacity,” Reitman said to the Mayor and Council. “His position is that your action in a quasi judicial capacity. There is a difference.”

Reitman said he has consulted with other attorneys who say Council is acting in a legislative capacity.

Reitman said he needed more time to review the document submitted by Ellison that argued that the Council was acting judicially.

“This is information has been received this afternoon at 3:04 p.m.” he said.

“Your discretion is either to grant the deannexation request tonight,” Reitman said, “or, if you believe it would be adverse to the public health, safety and welfare pursuant to the standards, in other words, the effect on the remainder of the community, you have the option of denying the deannexation request.”

“Another option you have, which is what I recommend, is to table it, so that I can have an opportunity to respond to the 119-page package and to read each of these cases and give them the weight and credence that they deserve.”

After a brief discussion, the Council voted to table the motion until the meeting on Monday, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall.


The video below is of the entire meeting of the Mayor and Council on Jan. 22.

Caitlin Farmer, reporter for The Oconee Enterprise, recorded the video using a camera and tripod I lent to her.

We had agreed in advance that having a video record of the meeting would be valuable. She also was able to use the video in writing a story on the meeting that appeared in the Feb. 8 edition of the paper (Page B3).

Goad made his introductory comments at 5:24 in the video.

Ellison addressed the Council at 8:07.

Citizen comments began at 25:10 in the video.

Ellison offered a rebuttal of the citizen comments at 44:40 in the video.

Reitman responded to Ellison at 50:25 in the video.

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