If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Please enter your email and we will send your username and password to you.
North High Shoals attorney Joe Reitman said they received a 119-page packet, including an eight-page letter, around three hours before the hearing, and they wanted time to review all documents in fairness to attorney David Ellison and the Townleys. Ellison of Fortson, Bentley & Griffin, P.A. represented the Townleys, and a court reporter was present for the meeting.
About 25 people were in attendance, and six spoke against the deannexation, sharing concerns about traffic safety, loss of tax revenue and altering the town’s historic boundaries.
According to a document from the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, the BOC consented to the property’s deannexation from NHS at its Jan. 2 meeting, though commissioners were critical of a new state law that made it easier for deannexations to occur.
According to Georgia Code 36-36-131, if a county’s government consents to the deannexation and it conforms with the law’s requirements, a city must approve it “unless it finds that the deannexation would be detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents and property owners of the area to be deannexed or to the area remaining within the municipality.”
The petitioner, Ellison, objected to a history of the request given by North High Shoals Mayor Stephen Goad. Goad said Townley and the previous mayor, Violet Dawe, verbally agreed to annex around 35 acres into the town for a residential subdivision.
Goad said rezone signs were removed after two days, and the town was then approached about deannexing the 175.76 acres. Photos of those rezone signs spread quickly on social media, leading citizens who are opposed to a subdivision to band together.
On Oct. 12, 2023, Carter Engineering submitted plans to the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department that were later withdrawn for a 32-lot subdivision with a minimum lot size of five acres called Apalachee Estates, according to a story by retired journalism professor Lee Becker.
At the January North High Shoals meeting, Ellison said Townley didn’t have “immediate plans” for the property to be a residential subdivision of “any sort.”
Ellison and Reitman disagreed about council procedure.
“My assessment of the statute is that [the mayor and town council] act in a legislative capacity,” Reitman said. “His position is that we act in a quasi-judicial capacity.”
Reitman said Ellison’s position of the mayor and town council being a quasi-judicial function viewed them almost as judges, which was why Ellison referenced deannexation court cases and objected to some statements or documents.
The 175.76 acres is part of a 401.335-acre parcel of land that Ellison said is 30% in NHS and 70% in unincorporated Oconee County.
Ellison said the NHS portion of the land is zoned A-1 Agricultural District, and the Oconee County portion is zoned for Agriculture.
“The goal for our client is to continue to use this property for agriculture purposes,” Ellison said. “This property was originally purchased for purposes for a hay field behind Lane Creek.”
Ellison said NHS’ zoning ordinances are unduly burdensome and unlawful, as they prohibit subdividing the 175.76 acres. The town has previously discussed ordinances to regulate livestock, timber and other agriculture uses.
Ellison said one zoning agency needed to have oversight, as it requires a road, new bridge and had a pond recently approved by the Environmental Protection Division.
Upon deannexation, Ellison said they would have the right to future residential uses while continuing the right to agricultural uses.
A Greater Traffic Company traffic study Ellison shared found “no significant traffic impact” on Jefferson Road currently or in the future.
Ellison’s letter said Townley’s tax liability to the town in 2023 was $50.24. He said the town can only consider the property’s present use, not future.