Tuesday night's vote by the Board of Commissioners to deny a 51-acre subdivision South of Watkinsville along Highway 15 is some of the best news I have heard in months.
Shrewd planners always offer various excuses for developers who seek to push the envelope in terms of new development into rural Oconee. Common phrases include: "I'll pay to expand the infrastructure." "The land use plan is just a guide." "The agricultural zoning designation was just a holding category when zoning was implemented." "There are other subdivisions nearby." "It is on a state route so should get different consideration."
During the fast growth years, these excuses were used to justify subdivisions along Flat Rock Road, Greensboro Highway, and Astondale Road, which were inconsistent with the county's future land use plans, which are developed with citizen input.
The fact is, the vast majority of Oconee residents -- whether they live in North or South Oconee -- want the south end of the county to remain pastoral. It may not be "rural" forever, but many people that I knew growing up in Oconee have bought land towards Farmington and Antioch with one goal -- to enjoy a more rural and laid back experience for themselves, for their children, or for their grandchildren, whether that means a real farm, a "gentleman 's farm," a tree plantation or just some extra land to enjoy away from the hustle and bustle of North Oconee and Athens. Others who live in Watkinsville and elsewhere (including myself), love the fact that you can run, ride, or quickly drive just a few minutes and be out in the country and enjoy a taste of old Oconee. Oconee has been recognized by Progressive Farmer as one of the best rural places to live in America, and we need to fight to hold onto that designation. Check out the slideshow here and you'll have a strong understanding of why it's so important that we prevent the creep of development from slowly eroding South Oconee.
Commissioners Luke and Horton should be strongly applauded for drawing a line and honoring the wishes of many in Oconee County and not rezoning the property in question, despite the enormous pressure they probably got to approve this rezone and will continue to get from developers to rezone land while times are tough. The fact is, selling lots in subdivisions isn't easy anywhere in Oconee, and we have enough lots entitled to last the next 8 years anyway.
On the flip side, what does this mean for land owners? For speculators who bought land to upzone and flip, this is bad news. For long time owners who planned to sell or need to sell, you'll certainly need to plan on selling in larger parcels. For those who have bought in south Oconee in recent years and are building homes and farms, this is great news for your investment. Lets hope the county tax appraiser begins valuing land in South Oconee like rural land, and not as land that is being held for development.
Long term, South Oconee is still a great real estate value. By not turning the area into a land of one- and two-acre lots and subdivisions, we can actually create a stronger lifestyle proposition by keeping the character and feel of the land intact and providing a different type of environment and experience for those who want to choose a more rural ambience. The key with this decision, as with many others in goverment, is to not be afraid to do things a little differently than those communities that surround us.