During the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday a prickly debate broke out over a variance requested by a property owner in the Beacon Hill area across U.S. 98 from Veterans Memorial Park and abutting park land on the beach side.
The variance had been tabled for more information last meeting by Commissioner Warren Yeager, who along with the county attorney and county administrator was not present for the meeting.
The parcel in question has been the subject of some controversy in the past as previous owners have sought concessions from the BOCC due to constraints on developing the parcel.
In turn, county veterans and supporters of the park have consistently protested plans to develop the parcel as an infringement on the park and its land.
Ellis Smith, a Georgia attorney and current landowner, was joined by his local attorney and engineer and protested several statements made during the previous meeting about the legality of the variance.
“I’ve been singled out and treated differently than anybody in the county,” Smith said.
He said he was deeding over a quarter acre of the parcel for beach access from the park in order for his son to secure the variance, a variance which he said was legal.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel agreed, saying Smith was entitled to divide his property and sell one parcel to his son and the son was entitled to further divide that property.
“You misled us two weeks ago, you have a history of that,” Commissioner Carmen McLemore said to Commissioner Joanna Bryan, who asserted two weeks ago and again Tuesday that the variance is in violation of the county’s land development regulation.
She said the parent parcel in question had already been divided and further division by Smith’s son was illegal. She offered the specific section in the LDRs pertaining to such actions.
“This is a direct violation of the LDR and you continue to do this,” Bryan said. “This lot was not big enough to be divided. This is wrong and it is bad for the community.
“I am appalled.”
She said Smith would have to undertake a subdivision plat to conform.
While the BOCC could provide a variance based on hardship, she said any hardship was the result of Smith’s actions.
She said she was not surprised by McLemore’s comments in favor given Smith’s financial contributions to his previous election campaign.
Bryan also asserted the public already had beach access and did not need Smith’s donation and said the proposal was to build a structure that would impact views from the park, saying assertions to the contrary on the structure and beach access were “false information.”
Resident Rodney Herring, current commander of VFW Post 10069, was one of several residents to speak against the variance.
“I want to go on record on behalf of the public that we oppose any variance that diminishes the enjoyment of that park in any way,” Herring said.
Commissioner Tan Smiley and McLemore said the county attorney is paid to research such issues and they had been provided the needed information that indicated the variance conformed to county rules.
Throughout the lengthy debate, McDaniel gaveled speakers out of order and personal jibes were exchanged by commissioners.
“If you have a certain relationship with the board you get what you want,” Bryan said at one point. “This will open the board up to lawsuits.”
The variance was approved 3-1 with Bryan dissenting.