UPDATE 8/28/23

Folks, we are updating you on the latest developments at the Bridge Creek and Murray Cove Road construction site. The property owners began clearing the land the week of July 10th. We immediately contacted the Savannah Riverkeeper, Tonya Bonitatibus, who has committed to helping us ensure they follow all the rules and requirements for clearing the land and constructing the storage facility. We viewed the property on July 15th and took drone footage of the work done to date. As you might expect, the property owners violated ordinances that dictate how to prepare a construction site before clearing begins. For example, there was no silt fencing or gravel to cover the area where the construction equipment accessed the property. We immediately filed a formal complaint after Tonya contacted the Rabun County Zoning Department, who offered no assistance. The clearing continued without silt fencing and gravel, so Tonya followed up with the Rabun County Marshal’s Office, which supervises the zoning department. The marshal’s office backed up the zoning office’s opinion that gravel and silt fencing were not required. Tonya then contacted RiverKeeper attorneys, who, in turn, contacted state attorneys. Consequently, attitudes changed, and the property owner installed fencing and gravel promptly. Whether this remedy fully meets state laws is debatable, and Tonya is reviewing the site map to ensure they are in full compliance.

We will continue watching as the development progresses, but I want to address a more significant issue. The upcoming Rabun County Commissioners’ elections are in May 2024. Three of the five commissioners are up for re-election for another four-year term. These commissioners have consistently voted without regard to the county’s master plan regarding developments around Lake Burton. Their votes disregard water quality and siltation issues. It is time we focus on developing a voice within the Rabun County Commissioners. We are currently looking for candidates who respect our county’s natural beauty, are willing to care for our resources, and desire to preserve them while growing the county responsibly.

For this to happen, the process must start with those of us who live here full-time, and you must register to vote to make a difference. Also, those with second homes, please consider splitting your vote between your primary residence and your lake house. You have until April 21, 2024, to register for the upcoming Primary Election in May 2024. We will also contact other Civic Associations in Rabun County to share this message. When the candidates have qualified for the election, we will send them a questionnaire to identify their beliefs and philosophy for leadership in the county. We will provide you with the questionnaire results to help you make an informed decision about the future leadership of this county. For now, please consider registering to vote in Rabun County. Your vote is needed to protect the beauty of Lake Burton and Rabun County.

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

UPDATE 4/28/23

In the months following the Rabun County Board of Commissioner’s decision to approve the rezoning for this proposed development, our group has continued to petition the county to reconsider that decision. Rabun County Zoning Ordinance requires that applications for rezoning be submitted with accompanying documentation, including a detailed site plan along with any other supporting documents related to environmental impact and stormwater drainage. Those documents either did not exist or were simply not made available prior to or during any of the public hearings on the matter.

We have requested, no less than three times, that the Board of Commissioners rescind their decision until such time as the public has an opportunity to review and comment on the plans in accordance with established procedures. Unfortunately, our requests continue to be ignored.

Recently, we finally obtained a copy of the proposed development and site plans through an open records request. The results of the engineering review of these plans are contained within the attached draft memorandum for your review. Click here to see the memorandum.

As you will see, there remain a significant number of concerns regarding the proposed development, especially as it relates to siltation and stormwater runoff to Lake Burton.

You may have also seen a recent announcement from the LBCA regarding the ongoing efforts to protect the water quality of Lake Burton. Part of that effort involves a sizable donation to an organization known as the Savannah Riverkeeper. This non-profit organization is charged with monitoring the health of the Savannah River watershed and advocating for clean water and better state and local laws to protect our water systems. Since the Rabun County lakes are within the headwaters of the Savannah River, they have agreed to work with our group to monitor and protect the health of our lakes and to engage with our political leaders to address some of the issues we are all concerned about. Click here to read the letter from the the Savannah Riverkeeper.

Earlier this year, both the LBCA and the Savannah Riverkeeper have been trying to engage in meaningful conversations with the County Planning and Zoning office regarding the concerns identified in the engineering memo without success. Multiple telephone calls and voice messages have been ignored.

Additionally, The Friends of Murray Cove have also hired a new attorney to formulate a response to the development plans for this boat storage facility and address the environmental concerns identified in the engineering memo. Together with the LBCA and the Savannah Riverkeeper, we intend to pursue every possible remedy to this potential disaster, including another potential civil claim.

Your continued support, both financial and otherwise, is invaluable to our efforts and we continue to be grateful for your generosity. Special thanks should also be extended to the small group of our community who have been quietly trying to convince the project owner to abandon their development plans and sell the property.

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

UPDATE 9/13/22

Our efforts to prevent approval of the rezoning request for the proposed boat storage facility near Murray Cove Road were unsuccessful. During the latest Rabun County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board voted 4-1 to approve the zoning change. The only commissioner opposing the application was Scott Crane, who, you may recall, opposed the initial application in 2021.

Throughout this process, we have worked to provide compelling information regarding the negative impact this development will have on the environment, safety, and traffic in our community. Despite our efforts, our arguments did not sway the Board of Commissioners.

So, where does that leave us? A recent article in the Clayton Tribune noted that the developer modified the development to reduce the overall size and number of storage units. The site will contain fewer outdoor boat storage spots and must be surrounded by a 30-foot “mature, vegetative buffer” with only one entrance/exit located on Bridge Creek Road. While this sounds like progress, it is important to note that no site or development plan was submitted for review.

The Friends of Murray Cove remains committed to continually monitoring this project and is prepared to take action if needed. We intend to focus on ensuring the project complies with the plans and specifications approved by Rabun County and any other governmental authorities having jurisdiction.

To that end, we will engage a qualified third-party engineer on a limited basis to review the project and permits required, especially approvals from agencies outside of Rabun County. We will also ensure the developer submits a Wetlands Determination Letter.

Responsible growth and development can occur while preserving our region’s rich natural resources. We must ensure that the leaders within our community consider the interests of all residents and represent the people rather than pursuing their special interests.

Finally, we strongly encourage you to consider where your vote has the greatest impact. If you have not already done so, please register to vote in Rabun County. Make your voices heard so we can work together and preserve the magnificent beauty that brought us to this region.

We want to thank all who continue supporting us in our worthwhile effort to protect our community.

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

UPDATE 7/20/22

We attended the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on June 27th and were joined by a full house of supporters. We made a persuasive presentation on why this zoning request should be denied and we believe that our position was well received.

During the discussion of this application, it appeared that members of the Zoning Commission had concerns with the applicant’s request to rezone the property. The Commission also confirmed our belief that should this property be rezoned, it would open the potential for future redevelopment into any commercial enterprise such as a retail store, convenience store, etc.

Before the Commission concluded the discussion on this application, representatives from Taywood LLC asked if they could designate this application to be limited to only boat, personal, and RV storage. They were advised that a new application would be required and their request for a “special purpose” designation would be considered. In this case, a “special purpose designation” would still mean that this property would be rezoned from agricultural to commercial, but the commercial use would be restricted to only allow for the construction and operation of a storage facility as identified in the original application.

Taywood elected to withdraw the original application before the Commission entered a recommendation and has since submitted a new application with a special purpose designation.

Our resistance to this rezoning request has not changed and we intend to express our opposition to the Planning and Zoning Commission once again on July 25 th and then again to the Board of Commissioners on August 23rd. We assert that this proposed rezoning is contrary to our responsibility to preserve and protect the unique and valuable natural resources of the county and that this unnecessary commercialization of the scenic corridor sets a dangerous and unwise precedent.

The Friends of Murray Cove, the Atlanta Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as the Quaker group who joined in our recent litigation) and members of the Lake Burton Civic Association have once again joined in a coordinated effort to prevent this rezoning and unsightly commercial development.

As members of our community, we urge you to attend both the Planning and Zoning Meeting on July 25th and the Board of Commissioners Meeting on August 23rd and support the presentation that our group is organizing. It is important that we speak with a single, unified voice and ask that comments opposing this application be coordinated whenever possible.

Let your presence be your voice while we remind the commission and board members of our opposition to this application.

Your continued support, both through your encouragement and your generosity, will help us to continue to work toward the preservation and protection of Rabun County’s natural resources.

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

UPDATE 6/14/22

On Thursday, June 6, 2022, the Clayton Tribune printed a public notice that the Rabun County Planning and Zoning Commission was considering an application submitted by Taywood, LLC to rezone the parcel of land located at the corner of Bridge Creek Road and Murray Cove Road from Agricultural to Commercial.  Last Thursday, June 9, 2002, the notice was placed on the property indicating that the Planning and Zoning Committee would hear comments related to this application at their monthly meeting scheduled for June 27, 2022 at 6 pm (Rabun County Courthouse).

As you know, earlier this year we obtained a court order overturning the previous rezoning decision approved in 2021 by the Rabun County Board of Commissioners.  We believed that county ordinance required that applicants wait 6 months before submitting a new application.  Unfortunately, the Rabun County Attorney has suggested that is not the case.  Subsequently, the owners of that parcel have submitted an application and plans identical to their previous plan to develop this property as a commercial storage facility.

Our resistance to this rezoning request has not changed and we intend to express our opposition to the Planning and Zoning Commission on July 27th and once again to the Board of Commissioners on July 26th.  We assert that this proposed rezoning is contrary our responsibility to preserve and protect the unique and valuable natural resources of the county and that this unnecessary commercialization of the scenic corridor sets a dangerous and unwise precedent.

The Friends of Murray Cove, the Atlanta Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as the Quaker group who joined in our recent litigation) and members of the Lake Burton Civic Association have once again joined in a coordinated effort to prevent this rezoning and unsightly commercial development.

As members of our community, we urge you to attend both the Planning and Zoning Meeting on June 27th and the Board of Commissioners Meeting on July 26th and support the presentation that our group is organizing.  It is important that we speak with a single, unified voice and ask that comments opposing this application be coordinated whenever possible. 

Let your presence be your voice while we remind the commission and board members of our opposition to this application. 

Your continued support, both through your encouragement and your generosity, will help us to continue to work toward the preservation and protection of Rabun County’s natural resources. 

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

P.S. Should any of you specialize in Land Use and Zoning law, specifically as it relates to these types of rezoning requests (or know someone who does), please have them reach out to us.

UPDATE 3/31/22

On Thursday, March 31, 2022, the Rabun County Superior Court overruled the rezoning decision of the Rabun County Board of Commissioners for the development of a storage facility on Bridge Creek Road.

This ruling represents the culmination of months of work by our attorney, concerned neighbors, and our friends’ financial (and moral) support on and around Lake Burton.  

While we consider this a victory, there will be more challenges ahead. The owners of this property must now wait at least six months before they can re-apply for a zoning change. We now know that their plans for this property are significantly more elaborate than they led us to believe. The plans now include multiple buildings (one two-story structure), more than 40,000 square feet of interior space, and outdoor storage for more boats and RVs. Click Here to download the Proposed Site Plan.

You can read more about our hearing in the next edition of the Clayton Tribune

Thank you for your ongoing support. If you have any questions, please feel free to respond to FriendsofMurrayCove@gmail.com.  

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

 

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

UPDATE 3/8/22

Here is the latest update on our appeal of the Rabun County Commissioners’ decision to rezone the property at Bridge Creek Road and Murray Cove Road from agriculture to commercial.

We have completed the depositions of the two members of Taywood LLC who purchased the property. They plan to build storage units for boats, personal items, and, as we learned in the depositions, RVs. We believe the depositions went well and will file an appeal with Judge Grant Brantley requesting that the zoning decision be overturned. Our attorney has advised us that it will be late March or early April, at the earliest, before we go before Judge Brantley. We will keep you posted once we get a definite date.

How You Can Help

We thank you for your support to date and will continue to update you on the appeal as well as a complete accounting of all expenditures. If you have any questions, please feel free to respond to FriendsofMurrayCove@gmail.com. 

 

If you would like to support the Friends of Murray Cove, you can click on the Donate menu item at the top right corner of the page.

 

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

 

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

UPDATE 10/19/21

Here is an update on our efforts to have the 8118 Bridge Creek Road (corner of Murray Cove Rd at Bridge Creek Road) parcel rezoning reversed. You can expect periodic updates from us as this case moves along.

 

On July 20th, we filed an appeal with the Rabun County Superior Court naming The Friends of Murray Cove, Atlanta Monthly Meeting of Religious Society of Friends (The Quaker Church), and the Lake Burton Civic Association as plaintiffs. The named defendants were The Rabun County Board of Commissioners and Taywood LLC (the developers).

 

After filing, both local Superior Court judges recused themselves from the case. Shortly after, Judge R. Timothy Hamil, Administrative Judge for the Seventh Judicial Administrative District, appointed Judge Grant Brantley to preside over the case. Both defendants (the Rabun County Board of Commissioners and the Taywood LLC) have now responded to the lawsuit denying all allegations. Next month our attorney we will begin discovery in the case by taking depositions from the developers, Taywood LLC.

 

How the Case Began

The developer, Taywood LLC, sought and was granted permission to convert this 5-acre parcel from Agricultural to Commercial zoning to build a boat and mini-warehouse storage facility. Despite a large turnout of opposing residents at the County Commissioner’s meeting, the commissioners approved the request without required site plans, erosion, or traffic studies. Many residents felt the county did not handle the request correctly, especially considering the county’s very specific provisions regarding rezoning requirements. Friends of Murray Cove LLC was formed by concerned residents to appeal this ruling.

 

Thanks to your generosity, we have met our initial financial obligations. We incurred $12,000 in retainer fees to retain Michael H. Cummings II as our attorney. In addition, the Superior Court of Rabun County required us to post a $5,000 bond before our filing. Your contributions, combined with the Lake Burton Civic Association’s generous support, allowed us to meet these obligations and proceed with our appeal.

 

How You Can Help

We thank you for your support to date and will continue to update you on the appeal as well as a complete accounting of all expenditures. If you have any questions, please feel free to respond to FriendsofMurrayCove@gmail.com. 

 

If you would like to support the Friends of Murray Cove, you can click on the Donate menu item at the top right corner of the page.

 

Thank you for helping keep Murray Cove, Lake Burton, and Rabun County clean, safe, and beautiful!

 

Board of Directors
Friends of Murray Cove, LLC

UPDATE 7/28/21

Lawsuit: Board's zoning change vote was illegal

By Wayne Knuckles on Wednesday, July 28, 2021

CLAYTON–The Rabun County Board of Commissioners acted illegally when they approved a zoning change in July for a 5-acre lot near Lake Burton to allow construction of a boat storage facility, a lawsuit filed last week alleges.

The suit contends a vote to approve a zoning status change from agricultural to commercial was illegal because it did not follow the prescribed procedures required by local and state law.

It also contends there were conflicts of interest involving a former owner of the property —who was also a member of the Rabun County Planning Commission, which initially approved the request–and County Commissioner Will Nichols.

The lawsuit asks that the zoning change be voided and the land returned to agricultural status.

County officials have denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

The lawsuit was filed in Rabun County Superior Court on July 20 by three groups: Friends of Murray Cove, the Atlanta Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends and the Lake Burton Civic Association.

The lawsuit raises concerns about whether commissioners followed their own policies and procedures for the rezoning process.

“The process wasn’t followed,” said Matt Mitcham, a property owner on Lake Burton and member of Friends of Murray Cove.

About 20 people came to the July 20 county commission meeting to oppose the zoning change.

Mitcham said it was not only obvious the commissioners had already made up their minds, but several disparaging comments were directed toward them by a county commissioner.

“We don’t think we were treated fairly,” said Mitcham. “We’re reasonable people, but it was apparent the decision was made before we even came in.”

“A lot of the discussion seemed to center around ‘us versus them,’” said local attorney Michael Cummings, who represents the groups filing the lawsuit.

“They (commissioners) really laid into the crowd,” said Chip Groome, President of the Lake Burton Civic Association. He said the group attending the meeting felt they were being treated with disrespect just because they live at the lake. “It was not an open process. For them to do this was very disappointing. We want to be good neighbors. We want to help the county. We’d rather spend money on the charities in this community than trying to get the commissioners’ attention.”

In the lawsuit, it alleged commissioners failed to follow their own ordinances and procedures in several instances prior to the vote to rezone, including:

-A legal notice published by the county in The Clayton Tribune that did not name the owner of the tract of land as required.

-A rezoning notice posted on the property was placed so far into the property it was not in a “conspicuous place,” as required by law, and was not posted for the required period of time;

-The application for a zoning change contained no information except a vague reference to “boat storage.” There was no supporting statement, as required by Rabun County’s Zoning ordinance.

-Commissioners allowed the property to be rezoned without any siltation, water or sediment runoff plan, and without plans for “driveways, entrances, utilities, traffic impact studies, creek or stream buffers or any other plans or specifics whatsoever.”

An adjacent property owner said a proposed boat storage unit is not consistent with the current usage of the surrounding property.

“The property our congregation owns on Lake Burton is used for worship, contemplation and fellowship,” said Georgia Lord, assistant clerk for the Atlanta Friends group of Quakers which owns adjacent property, in a written statement to The Tribune. “We gather there to connect with nature’s beauties and cultivate a sense of peace and simplicity. The proposed use for the adjacent property is not only inconsistent with our long-time usage of our property, but also seems likely to cause damage to our property through runoff of water and pollutants.”

The lawsuit states that on March 15, 2021, Matthew (Matt) Woods was a member of the Rabun County Planning Commission and also a one-third owner in the property. His parents, Sandra and Barry Woods, owned a two-thirds interest, according to the complaint.

One day later, on March 16, a deed from the owners of the property to Taywood, LLC was filed in the office of the Rabun County Clerk of Court, showing a transfer tax on the amount paid for the property as being $190,000.

On the same day, Taywood LLC applied for a change in zoning of the property, according to the lawsuit.

“Planning Commission Member Matt Woods did not disclose any conflict of interest in the zoning decision, nor did he recuse himself from voting on the zoning change concerning the property he allegedly sold the day of or the day before the application was filed,” the lawsuit states.

Taywood LLC was formed 15 days before the zoning application was filed, according to the lawsuit.

It also states that Rabun County Commissioner Will Nichols, who voted to grant the request for rezoning, is the brother-in-law of Matt Woods and the son-in-law of the other owners of the property “the day of or the day before the application for a zoning amendment” was filed.

“Plaintiffs believe that the failure of both a member of the Planning Commission and of the County Commissioner to disclose actual or potential conflicts of interest in land that they and/or family members owned the day of or the day before the zoning application change was filed, and from which they or a family member profited, violates their duty … under the conflict-of-interest statute.”

Contacted Friday, Nichols said his family did not own the property at the time of the vote.

“None of our family owned that property when it was being voted on,” Nichols said.

County attorney Allyn Stockton said he doesn’t believe there as a conflict of interest.

“There was nothing that required him to recuse himself, based on what I know,” Stockton said, adding that Nichols’ vote did not change the outcome of the request for a change of zoning, which passed 4-1. Only commissioner Scott Crane voted against the motion.

Commission Chairman Greg James said last week he didn’t think “we did anything wrong procedurally, but if indeed we did, we will fix it and we’ll move on.”

Meanwhile, several residents of Lake Burton say they intend to get more involved politically as a result of what they see as their mistreatment.

“We want to be sure we have adequate representation (on the county commission),” Groome said. “There should be no taxation without representation.”

Staff Writer Megan Broome contributed to this story.