The Oconee Beach Club, a lavish resort-style housing and vacation development proposed for Morgan County, is off the table, at least for now.
Before the Morgan County Planning Commission could render a vote, developers proposing the massive development near Buckhead with an estimated $550 million worth, pulled their rezoning application at the last minute during Thursday night’s meeting.
In front of nearly 50 attendees, developers presented plans to the commission calling for a resort-style housing development to be built upon a 300-acre tract of land off Reids Ferry Road in Morgan County to be completed by December 2031.
However, due to unanswered questions posed by Morgan County’s planning staff and pressing concerns from nearby residents, developers decided to temporarily pull the application to better resolve the looming issues causing apprehension from Morgan officials and the public.
“After the presentations from the applicant’s representative and planning staff and questions from the Planning Commission members, the applicant’s representative requested to withdraw the application to give them an opportunity to clarify concerns addressed by the Planning Commission members and the public,” said Morgan County Planning Director Chuck Jarrell after the meeting.
Some of the issues the commission would like addressed more in depth is how developers plan to handle increased traffic flow on Reids Ferry Road and surrounding roads, the burden on county services and infrastructure, and potential negative environmental impacts.
The application, officially filed by Oconee 300, LLC, was requesting a zoning map amendment, from Lakeshore Low Density Residential District (LR-1) to Lakeshore Town Center Overlay (LTCO) to accommodate plans for the development on 291.86 acres located on Reids Ferry Road.
As previously reported in the Morgan County Citizen, the master plan for the project calls for a village neighborhood, a farm neighborhood and a field neighborhood. The village neighborhood will include “a charming collection of rooms, suites, cottages, and vacation homes all nestled between the vibrant waterfront and tranquil forests for members and their guests.” The farm neighborhood will have a “Family Barn and Gardens” that can be used as an event venue and will have a farm-to-table cafe. Plans for the farm neighborhood portion also include a stocked fishing pond with personal guide services and a spa. The Field Neighborhood, the plan says, would include pickle ball courts, an archery range, “glamping tents,” fire pits and a workout facility. The project also calls for a marina, boat storage, a boat ramp, and a beach for recreation on Lake Oconee.
The man behind the Oconee Beach Club proposal is Ryan Millsap. Millsap, according to a master plan for the project submitted with the planning department, is the chairman and CEO of Blackhall Capital and recently served as the CEO of Blackhall Studios, an entertainment studio whose production clients include Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal and Lionsgate among others.
According to the newly released Developments Regional Impact (DRI) report, completed by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission (NEGRC), “the applicant estimates that the project would be worth $550 million at build-out in 2031 and generate $5.4 million in annual local taxes. On a per-acre basis, the project would be worth approximately $1.9 million and generate approximately $18,500 in tax revenue.”
The NEGRC recommended that “prior to approval, the County should measure the life cycle costs of the infrastructure needed to serve this project to ensure that they would not be committing to more maintenance expenses than the new tax revenue can cover.”
The DRI noted that the proposed development “would include 250—300 single-family homes and cottages, 100—150 attached housing units, and either a 75-room hotel with glamping areas and a cottage or 50 multi-family residential housing units. The development would also include approximately 150,000 square feet of non-residential uses, including dining, a marina, a waterfront beach, indoor and outdoor gathering areas and amenities, a boat storage shed, a farm, and a garden market. Additionally, the site plan shows three gated entrances (two on Reids Ferry Road and one on Wood Road), a boat ramp, boat storage, 100-foot county buffers around state waters and wetlands, and a 40-foot minimum Georgia Power setback from Lake Oconee. Currently, the site is forested with a mixture of pine and deciduous trees.”
“We’ve never seen anything like this before in the county,” said Morgan County Commissioner Bill Kurtz, who represents the district for which the Oconee Beach Club is proposed. “There is just a lot more we need to know about this before we can move forward.”
The Planning Commission echoed Kurtz’ sentiment, unsatisfied with the current state of answers on how potential problems posed by such a massive development would be addressed.
According to the DRI report, the Oconee Beach Club would require significant roadway improvements, water and sewer infrastructure additions, and environmental protections.
The DRI report noted a traffic study estimated the Oconee Beach Club would generate 1,641 new daily trips by motorists on Reids Ferry Road and other nearby roads. The DRI report also noted that the development would have a daily demand of 0.20 MGD for the water system and 0.18 MGD for the sewer system, amounts the current systems in place cannot handle. The report also notes the projected 200 tons of solid waste generated per day can also not be handled by the current landfill providers.
“The applicant states that the water demand cannot be met by the system’s existing capacity, but that it is understood that groundwater wells would need to be installed and connected to the existing water tower located across the road from the proposed development. The applicant also states that a hydrology report will need to be conducted to determine whether an additional water tower will be needed. A water line extension would be required to serve this project, the length of which is unknown at this time,” states the DRI report. “The applicant states that wastewater demands can be covered by existing sewer capacity and that a sewer line extension of approximately 4.6 miles of force main is anticipated.”
“The applicant estimates the project would generate 200 tons of solid waste annually and that sufficient landfill capacity is not available to handle this waste,” noted the report.
Some of the environmental concerns include how the development would affect “water supply watersheds, wetlands, floodplains, and other environmentally sensitive resources” as well as the potential displacement of bald eagles, a threatened species, confirmed to nest on the property.
However, the developers believe the project would “unlikely” affect factors such as groundwater recharge areas, protected mountain and river corridors or local historic resources.
Developers plan to gather more information and research on the cited concerns before returning to the Morgan County Planning Commission with a rezoning request necessary for the project to move forward.