Oconee County planners want the residents south of Athens to begin thinking about what it should look like in the future.
As reported in the Athens Banner-Herald, the county has begun the process of updating its state-mandated “Joint Comprehensive Plan” for the county and its four towns, Bishop, Bogart, North High Shoals and Watkinsville, Oconee County Planning Director B.R. White told Oconee County Commissioners last week.
The state requires updated plans to be eligible for state grant, assistance and permitting programs.
State rules also require public involvement in the planning, which includes the appointment of a “stakeholders” committee to represent major interest groups in the county.
Oconee’s new county commission will appoint the group of about 20 to 25 people, said outgoing county commission chairman Melvin Davis. The process also includes public meetings over the course of several months designed to give other citizens a chance to participate in the planning process, he said.
The plans are intended to guide the county’s development. The county’s existing plan, adopted in 2007, has a distinct difference in development goals for the county’s northern and southern areas.
The 2007 plan’s aim was to keep development to the northern part of the county, near Athens and fast-growing Barrow and Walton counties, and leave most of the rest of the county rural and agricultural. The rural aspect is the reason many Oconee residents live there, and why in 2006 Progressive Farmer named Oconee County one of the three best rural counties to live in.
Sustaining that rural feel may be challenging because Oconee County nearly tripled in population, from 12,427 to 32,808, between 1980 and 2010. If the county continues to grow at this pace, its population in 2040 will be at nearly 87,000, which is comparable to the size of Clarke County in 1990.
Aside from population, developers backed with state and federal financial incentives hope to install one of the state’s largest solar farms on more than 200 farmland acres near Bogart, but the plan is heavily opposed by area residents around the intersection of Dials Mill and McNutt Creek roads. This area is becoming more residential, and Oconee’s zoning and land-use rules weren’t drawn up with such installations in mind.
Water issues are also increasingly coming up in the county as its road and sewage treatment systems grow along with county’s population and commercial sector.
A planned four-lane and bypass of U.S. Highway 441 around Bishop could affect several streams, for example, while homeowners with land on Calls Creek have organized to fight the county’s planned gravity-fed sewer line down the creek.
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