Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Rezone For Retail Building, Hear Citizen Requests For Stronger Role In Library Decisions

***Approve Contract For Heritage Park Design Work***

When he stood before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 6, Engineer Jeff Carter didn’t present an attractive picture of what’s on the property at the eastern intersection of Ruth Jackson Road and U.S. 78.

Carter, representing Rick Bradshaw’s Mulberry Property Investments LLC, told the Board the property owned by Mulberry Property Investments is “in bad shape,” and “the owner wants to revitalize that corner” by putting in a “general retail facility.”

Carter had been even less charitable when he spoke to the Oconee County Planning Commission last month, saying the property holds “a dilapidated kind of building.”

Both the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the plans presented by Carter to demolish the vacant existing building, combine additional acreage owned by Leon W. Miller III, and build a 10,200 square foot retail building to be accessed from Ruth Jackson Road.

The Board of Commissioners meeting was a relatively short one, at the end of which the Board approved without discussion the consent items from its work session on Jan. 30.

That agenda included the Fiscal Year 2024 Mid-Year Budget Amendment Request from Finance Director Melissa Braswell transferring funds for the future Dawson Park and issuance of an engineering contract for design work at Heritage Park.

At the beginning of the meeting, during the Public Comment section, two citizens asked the Board to do more to influence the policy of the Oconee County Library for shelving materials the pair said are inappropriately available to young people.

Library Comment: First Speaker

Suzannah Heimel told the Board when she came forward to speak that “we’ve done what you said. We followed the rules. We’ve filled out the forms. We’ve submitted them. And now we’re told we are not going to even look at the books you submitted because we are limited to five.”

Heimel Before Board 2/6/2024

At the January meeting of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees, Valerie Bell, Executive Director of the Athens Regional Library System, which includes Oconee County’s two libraries, said that “right now we can only accept five challenges per quarter for the entire region.”

“That is five books, 250,000 people, in five counties, with these 11 libraries,” Heimel said. “I want to know, what is this county going to do?”

“You say you don’t have control over programming,” she said. “But you do fund the library--$500,000 this year. As well as $20,000 that you are paying to the Athens Regional Library System for membership in their PINES system.”

“So while you may not have control over programming,” she said. “You do have control over the library.”

“Myself and many others would like to see the Board of Commissioners get involved with the library,” she said. “Now is the perfect time to do it because they are moving and they have been closed for two months now, more than two months. Now is the time to solve this problem.”

The Fiscal Year 2024 Budget adopted by the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees lists the $500,000 contribution of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners. The total budget covering the county’s two libraries is $588,930.

Oconee County Board of Commissioner Chair John Daniell said in an email on Feb. 13 that “We are not paying an additional amount to PINES. The library may be paying that amount from our allocation to them.”

Library Comment: Second Speaker

“In case you think it is just a few people here in this county who are seeing something that they are concerned about,” Victoria Cruz said. “That’s not the case. This is a national problem.”

Cruz Before Board 2/6/2024

Cruz said the problem is with access by children to inappropriate library materials.

“They are vulnerable. They are young. And they are being exposed to graphic pictures,” she said. “This is kindergartners, preschoolers, picture books with graphic nudity, sometimes graphic sexual acts.”

“What’s happening is making children much more comfortable with nudity,” she said. “Much more comfortable with sex at a very young age, when they are not able to make the right decisions.”

“And I cannot help but believe that this is being done on purpose so that they don’t refuse any sexual advances toward them,” she continued. “I think pedophilia is a big problem.”

“I think failure to address this issue here in this county where parents are trying to protect their children is complicit,” she said. “You can’t look away from this. This is a serious issue.”

“These kids are damaged,” she said. “Over 50 percent now don’t know whether they are men or women. So it is a very serious issue.”


Carter, President of Carter Engineering, told the Board he was representing both Mulberry Property Investments LLC and Miller.

Carter Before Board 2/6/2024

Mulberry has owned the 0.63 acres with the existing “dilapidated” building since 2023, according to the county planning staff report.

“The property currently has a two-story wood building and a one-story metal building on the property,” according to the county planning staff report. “Tax Assessor records indicate part of the existing structure was built in 1950. It is not clear when the attached metal storage building was built.”

Miller, according to that staff report, was granted a one-half undivided interest in 2005 in the 2.21 acres that abut the 0.63 acres on two sides.

The staff report states that “This parcel contains multiple sheds, an 840 SF metal open storage building (no permits found), and a 7,584 square foot building that was permitted in 1995 as a farm use storage building.”

According to the narrative submitted by Carter, the buildings are used for private storage and will remain on the property.

Request Of County

The smaller plot already was zoned B-2 (Highway Business District), while the 2.21 acre-tract was zoned AG (Agricultural District).

Building To Be Demolished 2/13/2024

What the owners sought, and the county granted, was a rezone of the entire 2.84 acres to B-2.

According to the county planning staff report, the acreage will be replatted with 1.47 acres used for the retail building and 1.37 acres used for the existing private storage buildings.

Carter told the commissioners that the single-store retail building “meets the future Land Development Map. It's right up there on Highway 78, where the commercial corridor is, and we've heard no opposition, only positive things from this rezone case.”

No one spoke in favor or in opposition to the request before the Planning Commission or the Board of Commissioners last week, and the neither body had any discussion before giving unanimous approval.

Consent Agenda

The Board on Feb. 6 approved budget amendments requested by Finance Director Melissa Brasswell at the Jan. 30 agenda setting meeting that included General Fund added revenue of $712,134 and expenditures of that same amount.

It also included revenue neutral amendments transferring $1.9 million for the sale of the Annex and $1.6 million from the sale of the Library to Capital for the future Dawson Park at the Land Application System site on Rocky Branch Road. No date has been set for decommissioning the sewage treatment operation..

The Board also approved an engineering design contract for $159,000 with Smith Planning Group for preparation of construction documents for improvements at the Heritage Park.

Lisa D. Davol, Parks and Recreation Director, told the Board at its Jan. 30 agenda setting meeting that “all the Park and Recreation Master Plans were completed and approve in 2023 and the next step for the Heritage Park plan improvement is to go into the engineering documents.”

In her memorandum to the Board, she explained that the “project includes improvements grading/erosion, infrastructure, parking/lighting, arena improvements, warm-up and competition outdoor arenas, horse stalls, equestrian dumpster area, mountain bike skills course, tree plantings, restrooms and maintenance facilities, and relocating a portion of a trail.”

No citizen spoke during the Public Comment period at the agenda-setting meeting on Jan. 30.


The first video link below from the Oconee County YouTube Channel is to the regular meeting on Feb. 6.

The meeting begins at 14:31 in the video.

Heimel began speaking at 15:40 and was followed by Cruz.

No one from the Board responded to the comments of Heimel or Cruz.

Commissioner Chuck Horton missed the meeting because of illness.

Presentation of the rezone request begins at 22:55 in the video.

The second video link is to the agenda setting meeting on Jan. 30.

The meeting begins at 13:12 in the video.

The third video link is to the Jan. 16 meeting of the Oconee County Planning Commission.

That meeting starts at 4:08 in the video.


Harold Thompson said...
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Harold Thompson said...

Per the recording of the meeting, did the BOC chairman really threaten to "go nuclear" on the libraries? That warrants clarification instead of silence from the Board.