Oconee development plan nearly finished

A small crowd at a Monday meeting eyed a future land use map for Oconee County. (Photo Lee Shearer/Staff)

A proposed land-use map drew the most attention at a recent meeting as a “stakeholders committee” neared the end of its work on Oconee County’s next state-required comprehensive plan.

 

The map is not a zoning map, but is meant to guide zoning and other government decisions over the county’s next decade.

The proposed land-use map is similar to one that’s in place now, which guides business and residential growth mainly to the northern part of the county, while aiming to preserve the more agricultural nature of the south Oconee County.

About 30 people, including Oconee County commissioners, reviewed the land use map and other features of the plan at a meeting held this week of the Stakeholders Committee at Oconee Veterans Park.

The public will have at least one more chance to comment on the plan before it goes on to its next step, either to the county commission itself or on to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for approval or revisions.

Northeast Georgia Regional Commission planner Justin Crichton presented the nearly-completed plan, asking for more public comment before the committee writes its final draft, while NEGRC planner Eva Kennedy and program specialist Jordan Shoemaker stood by to answer questions afterward.

Besides a section on future land use, the report also includes features such as a community profile - Oconee County is one of the state’s wealthiest, with an average age about 5 years older than the state, and is also one of the state’s fastest-growing counties.

Oconee County had a population of about 32,808 in 2010, but that will grow about 21 percent to around 40,000 by 2022, according to projections planners got from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

About three out of every four people who work in Oconee live outside the county, while about the same ratio of workers who live in Oconee County commute to jobs outside the county, according to the report. About 41 percent of those workers who leave Oconee during the day head for jobs in Clarke County. The next-most-frequent destination is Gwinnett County, at 4.3 percent.

The plan also includes sections on economic development; recreation, parks and green space; and transportation and infrastructure.

Noted in the plan is the need for more facilities for cyclists and the possibility of a rail-to-trail project similar to the Firefly Trail project in Athens-Clarke County, Crichton told the group.

Walkability and connectivity are also themes, as is planning for future parks, including not just large recreational parks like Oconee Veterans Park, but space for walking trails and smaller “pocket parks” and neighborhood parks.

Another focus is bringing broadband Internet access to the county’s more rural areas, mainly in the south.

After Crichton’s presentation, many gathered around the proposed land-use map.

One man said that the plan doesn’t open up enough land in the county for small business development. Concentrating commercial development in a small area has driven up land prices beyond what many small business owners can afford, he said, suggesting some areas along roads heading south from Watkinsville could be opened up.

Others suggested land-use changes in northern Oconee would bring homeowners and business developers into conflict.

Crichton said he anticipates the committee will adopt its final draft sometime in March.

 

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