Jackson County Opinions...

April 3, 2002

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 3, 2002

Traffic Not Relevant To New Courthouse
Presumably, one of these days the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will select a site for a new courthouse or county government complex. Vegas puts the odds at 4:1 for Darnell Road.
In all the discussions about the pros and cons of the two sites being considered, traffic keeps coming up. I’ve concluded that there are a lot of people in Jackson County who need to go beyond the county line now and then if they think we’ve got traffic problems.
Waiting for four turns of the light in downtown Jefferson to get through may be frustrating – but try driving in Atlanta. Traffic moves faster through Jefferson at 4:00 p.m. on Friday than it does on Georgia 400, Interstates 85, 75 and 475 much of the time in Atlanta. Try the Jimmy Carter or Pleasant Hill areas on Saturday morning. Try getting anywhere on Peachtree or Piedmont roads in Atlanta, and you’ll get a new perspective on local traffic.
I’m sure local residents forced to cope with Atlanta traffic regularly are bemused when they hear us talk about our traffic woes, along the line of how Buffalo natives must marvel over the panic that ensues here once snow is mentioned in the five-day forecast. People who have heart palpitations at the thought of waiting five minutes to get from Curry Creek to the bowling alley in Jefferson need counseling.
It’s not just in regard to the courthouse situation, however, that folks fret over our terrible traffic. I recently heard a Commerce councilman call the intersection at Hardee’s downtown “the most dangerous intersection in North Georgia.”
I’m not sure anyone has been killed at that traffic nuisance, but I can name several local intersections that are far more dangerous. Among them are all the intersections on the U.S. 441 bypass. And the next leader in death toll, once it is open, will be the Georgia 11 intersection with the U.S. 129 bypass in Jefferson.
Those are truly dangerous intersections caused, mainly, by truly dangerous drivers. They are not caused by lousy engineering, but by lousy or careless drivers, which we have in abundance.
I also heard someone call a five-degree slope on the Mount Olive Road a steep hill and have listened more than once to people talking about the terrible traffic in Commerce.
In Jackson County, seven cars must constitute gridlock.
I digress. Back to the Jefferson traffic debate.
The commissioners tell us that they will have to build the “Jackson County Parkway” and “Airport Connector” regardless of where the courthouse is located.
Well, guess what? Those roads will further enhance traffic flow through Jefferson, as will the U.S. 129 bypass, although I hope a traffic count of people going from U.S. 129 south to Maysville is done before a lot of money is spent.
So, gentlemen, if you decide to build a courthouse on Darnell Road, please come up with a better excuse than Jefferson’s traffic. Cite the wonderful “campus approach,” cost or parking. Saying traffic is a factor just makes you look like you’ve never traveled beyond the county line.

The Jackson Herald
April 3, 2002

‘A site equal to its noble purpose’
We have said several times in recent weeks that the location for a new county courthouse is important beyond just its utilitarian functions. A courthouse is a symbol of its community and should project an intangible value to the community that goes beyond bricks and mortar.
In an email report last week from gwinnettforum.com, retired judge Jim Oxendine of Gwinnett County outlined his feelings about being a judge. Among his comments was the following observation about working in a county courthouse:

“In making this transition (from lawyer to judge), the lawyer enters the unique environment of the judge — an environment of structural power, symbols, rituals and human drama in which the judge will carry out his judicial responsibilities....
“The County Courthouse itself is an integral part of a Judge’s working environment. Being brought up as a country boy in rural North Carolina, the most imposing structure in my county was the courthouse. When I was a young boy, I would go inside our county courthouse many times. I was struck by the wonder and felt the attention of its beauty. I felt that I was in a place where all issues could be settled by an imposing figure wearing a black robe. The judge’s workplace is truly unique. In my opinion, a courtroom should be a site equal to its noble purpose — a place where the physical appearance and the psychological ambiance form an appropriate environment for the administration of justice.”

Indeed, the events that take place inside a courthouse are often the focus of a community. The importance of those events and of the process that deals with the “rituals and human drama” deserve to be done in a setting the exudes the best a community can offer.
There’s a lot of conflicting debate over what exactly should be done about a new courthouse in Jackson County and while the logistical details are very important, so are the intangible psychological aspects.
Whatever is done should speak to our citizens and should be, to quote Judge Oxendine, “a site equal to its noble purpose.”

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By Kerri Graffius
The Jackson Herald
April 3, 2002

Zoning: Today’s universal issue
If someone had told me a year ago that the hottest issue any small town reporter would report about is zoning, I wouldn’t have believed them. After all, there’s corrupt politicians and escalating crime out there to report—not where the latest subdivision is going to be located.
But after attending numerous governmental meetings and listening and speaking to countless people throughout the county, zoning is indeed the universal issue today. Rich or poor, young or old, county transplant or life-long resident, it seems to be the one issue we all share our views about.
The one thing we all seem to know is that the growth from metro Atlanta is coming, but just how the sprawl should affect our community is something that remains unclear. Luckily, we’re in the position to look at our surrounding neighbors throughout north Georgia to see how they’re handling growth. And it’s a view we should continue to be interested about for the policies and practices that shape our neighbors will ultimately affect us as well.
Call it the “Circle of Life” in planning and developing a community, it affects all of us. It’s where we can take a first look of how theoretically a community should be developed versus what’s really practical—something that may never blend well with one another.
Let’s take a look at Atlanta itself for a moment. Since the early 1990s, metro Atlanta has surged beyond its capacity. Affordable housing, open land, good schools, an aesthetically-pleasing landscape and a better quality of life all contributed to a mass migration of people to Atlanta. Sound a little similar as to what’s happening with growth here?
Suburban sprawl, I believe, is the Manifest Destiny of the modern age—we develop and devour one community only to move onto the next. We have this belief today that “If it’s open land, it must be developed.”
And since the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta, in my opinion, has become a city more set on developing the latest shopping venue rather than preserving its character. Atlanta is now a bland city, devoid of the character that once made it unique. Hopefully, however, we will have the wisdom to preserve our community’s character from becoming just another “bedroom community.”
Speaking of “bedroom community,” Barrow County is arguably the current “starter-home capitol of Georgia.” Once again, affordable housing and proximity to Atlanta made Barrow County one of the fastest-growing residential communities in the state.
On the flip side, however, Barrow County officials have been struggling to retain and attract businesses to sustain the county’s tax digest. Everyone knows that homes, no matter how many you have to uplift property taxes, will always require more county services than even the biggest business.
For that matter, Barrow County fought to keep Duck Head Apparel along Georgia Highway 316 to provide hundreds of jobs and it continues to fight for the businesses that will keep its residents from working and shopping in other counties as well.
Just look at the implications of locating the same potential business in one county versus another county.
As one developer told the Braselton town council a few weeks ago, he plans on possibly locating a Supercenter Wal-Mart to the Barrow County portion of Braselton at the intersection of highways 124 and 211, near Château Élan. But if the rumor mill holds correct in Braselton, the Wal-Mart might be located in the retail portion of the proposed Georgia Distribution Center along Highway 53—in Jackson County.
So what does that mean?
Jobs and taxes for one county and not the other.
After all, how can you continue to fund special purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST) for new schools and infrastructure without a decent foundation of businesses to provide such sales taxes?
Smart growth requires more than a bunch of homes, it requires an mix of industry to support the county’s current population and quality industry to entice more attractive businesses and therefore stimulate the community. It also requires the knowledge to plan wisely and fairly for everyone—residents, along with business owners.
But there does seem to be some unfairness in communities moving forward from their past, in my opinion.
When we talk about growth, someone always brings up the point: “The new people just want to make this place look like Gwinnett County. If they don’t like what’s already here, then why did they move out of Gwinnett?”
There’s clearly this mentality among native countains and transplant residents of “us versus them.” Somebody wants to spruce up the county, while others are more intent on keeping things the way they’ve always been.
Yet if we are to move the county forward by “sprucing” up simply the appearance of the community, we must not discriminate against those who can’t afford the “desirable” and “upscale” homes that seem to receive less opposition than “affordable housing.”
A developer in Hall County, for example, believed that county’s board of commissioners acted in discrimination when they refused his plans to bring 58 mobile homes to the community. According to an article in The Gainesville Times, some people said the mobile home park was “out of character” for the area. His plans, on the other hand, did fit Hall County’s land use plan.
I fear this is a scene we’ll continue to see more frequently in our community. The new pushing out the old; the poor pushed aside. Part of the “American Dream” is owning a home, but with favortism towards the weathly, it’s a dream that may be compromised for some people.
It’s finding the best compromise for the community as a whole that will prevent our county from becoming another faceless Atlanta suburb.
Although some people have questioned why county and municipal leaders don’t “fight the fights worth fighting” when it comes to growth, I would argue that most of them know where to draw the line.
Look at what happened in Hoschton recently. Last year, the city council rejected one developer’s request to build a subdivision; the developer filed a lawsuit; the city fought it; the developer returned with a better proposal and the city council approved it—recluantly.
Despite a petition signed by nearly 100 concerned citizens, one Hoschton council member said they essentially had to approve the request or face another lawsuit—which means more taxpayers’ money to “fight the fight.”
Yes, we should question and debate poorly-planned growth, but the fact remains that developers have more money and determination to take any municipality to court than the public is willing to handle.
So, what should we do when it comes to planning wisely and fairly?
While I could write more, I will say this: First, inform yourself. Read the newspaper, talk to your neighbors and learn from others. Second, keep in an open mind for wise compromises. And finally, think beyond your own property line—your community isn’t in just your backyard, it’s everywhere you live here.
Kerri Graffius is reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. Her email address is kerri@mainstreetnews.com.

The Commerce News
April 3, 2002

Protection Of Water Supply A Top Priority
The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority is prudently moving to establish security around the new Bear Creek Reservoir. As Athens mayor Doc Eldridge noted, it will become an “attractive nuisance.”
That mean that as a beautiful body of water, the reservoir will attract fishermen and others who may not exercise the level of care we would expect. A look at Commerce’s reservoir shows the need to protect this regional water source – easy access to the Commerce lake results in littering and vandalism, both of which could ultimately affect water quality.
The basin authority will soon create rules for the use of the lake, primarily for fishermen, but those who use it should remember that its purpose is to supply water to four counties. The authority wants to make the lake available to anglers, but if those who use the lake leave their trash behind, cause erosion on sloped shorelines or insist on violating the rules, expect access to be further restricted or denied.
For $63 million, protection of the water is paramount. Abuse of the reservoir will result in it being closed to all.

‘Peace’ Process In Middle East Needs U.S. Effort
If anyone has a solution to the problems in the Middle East, now would be an appropriate time to step forth. The Israel-Palestinian conflict seems quite capable of dragging the entire region into another war.
The United States has certainly not helped; the Bush administration's hands-off approach has contributed to a general escalation of atrocities, since America is the only power capable of pulling these two parties apart. But to be fair, while America can help moderate events in Israel, it takes (at least) two willing parties to bring peace. So far, there is no reason to suspect either Israel or the Palestinians want peace enough to make the sacrifices to get it.
On one hand, the Palestinians have suffered humiliation for years at the hands of the Israelis. They are prisoners in their own homeland, where they have few legal rights, where they live in poverty and where they are denied access to jobs, kicked out of their homes and terrorized.
On the other hand, the Israelis live in a world where they are outnumbered 20-1 by people who have sworn that they should be eradicated and who terrorize civilians to accomplish their means. Israel could accept every demand of PLO chief Yassar Arafat, accept a divided Jerusalem, withdraw from the occupied territories and there would be little likelihood that the terrorism would abate. There are too many zealots funded by the so-called friendly and by the outright hostile regimes for peace to take hold.
That hardly creates a scenario for a successful intervention, but without a more active U.S. role, the situation will deteriorate into a war that will not be restricted to Israel and the PLO; it could spread throughout the region and throughout the world.
Bush's war on terrorism is important, but the Middle East is the spawning ground of world terrorism. Leaving the Israelis and Palestinians to work things out for themselves guarantees that the region's terrorist effort will grow dramatically. Getting more involved in the conflict brings no warranty of peace and carries its own severe risks, but the United States' failure to take a lead role in trying to bring peace makes a cataclysm all but certain.
If there seems to be no hope of successful intervention in the Middle East, the Bush administration should consider the alternative. There may never be peace, but without intervention, there will certainly be war. That's not much of a choice, but that's the choice we have.

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