Oconee's growth must be managed responsibly - Oconee Enterprise: Online Features

     Watkinsville, Oconee County, Georgia

Oconee's growth must be managed responsibly

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Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2019 6:00 pm

Oconee County looks much different than it did 21 years when The Georgia Club announced its 27-hole golf course and hundreds of accompanying homes.

A year later, the Board of Commissioners approved a 387-homes subdivision near Lane Creek Golf Course.

Forget Y2K. Oconee’s biggest challenge heading into the new millennium was how to accommodate a torrent of residential growth.

In hindsight, Oconee never did stop to consider the long-term consequences of approving subdivision after subdivision, many of which were “master planned developments,” even though a more apt name would have been “massive, unprepared developments.”

Many of these subdivisions—such as Boulder Springs in 2000, Townside in 2004 and Coldwater Creek in 2004—were vehemently resisted by neighbors and a grassroots organization called “Citizens for Oconee’s Future.” A counter group called “Keep Oconee Vital” formed around that time with dueling full-page ads in The Oconee Enterprise. A third group called “Citizens for Ethical Government” also emerged with concerns about development.

Interestingly enough, one of the spokesmen for “Keep Oconee Vital,” Ken Beall, is now representing Chuck and David Williams as they pursue the build out of Watkinsville’s Wisteria Ridge, a townhome community first proposed in 2002. In December of that year, five subdivisions were approved in one sitting.

In fact, the number of homes built in 2002 doubled, and that trend continued into 2003 when in August of that year, the BOC approved five MPDs of more than 300 acres.

In October of 2004, when the twelfth MPD was approved, the “protests assumed tidal wave proportions,” according to The Oconee Enterprise. The December 2004 meeting in which Parkside was approved lasted until 1:30 a.m.  

In a 2004 blog, retired Oconee County Commission Chairman Wendell Dawson wrote, “[Citizens] decried the ‘free-wheeling’ allocation of the county’s limited sewer capacity that was a product of efforts of many county leaders of the past.”

Citizens for Oconee’s Future President Charles Baugh said, “I hope this board realizes what a mess you have gotten us into.”

Parkside, which was approved in December 2004, paid $2 million in sewer reservation fees by the end of 2005. And by June 2006, there were 19 MPDs scattered throughout the county that needed to hookup to the county sewer.

“County sewage is out of capacity,” Planner Brad Callendar told The Oconee Enterprise in June 2006. “There is capacity not being used, but it has already been purchased and is spoken for.”

On Wednesday of this week, Oconee County held a ribbon cutting for the expanded Calls Water Reclamation Facility, which more than doubled capacity at a cost of $14.43 million.

In 2018, Oconee County spent several million dollars purchasing property at the Middle Oconee River near the State Botanical Garden for a future wastewater treatment plant. 

Even though sewer access may no longer be a concern, every home that is built affects the school system and the volunteer fire department, not to mention Internet and utility companies.

Oconee County must proceed with caution. Its most recent population estimate of 38,028 is bound to surpass 40,000 when the Census is done next year. We must ask ourselves what number do we want for the 2030 Census—50,000? 60,000? 70,000? 80,000?

We should follow the advice of a “Keep Oconee Vital” ad circa April 2004: “Growth, like change, is inevitable. And it is critical that we plan for it, responsibility.” 

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