Jackson County Opinions...

AUGUST 6, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 6, 2003



An Explanation Of Developers’ Terminology
I cover planning commission meetings monthly and often find large numbers of citizens attending, most of them there because they don’t want the wooded tract next to them developed into anything other than woods.
A lot of what is said by those seeking rezoning is misunderstood, and as a public service I hereby offer interpretations of common statements by some non-resident developers of local land:
Quote: I just love (insert county or city name).
Translation: I can make a lot of money here and not have to suffer the ramifications of my development because I don’t live here.
Term: Affordable housing.
Meaning: Subsidized by the government so anyone not currently in prison can rent or get financing and become your neighbor.
Term: Quality development.
Meaning: Constructed as cheaply as possible and still passing minimum building codes. You won’t like what you see when you drive in this development five years after it is completed. Alternate meaning: That’s how we do it in Atlanta.
Phrase: We want to be good neighbors.
Explanation: We want to be good neighbors to our friends in Gwinnett County - we have no interest in being your neighbor.
Phrase: Houses will have brick fronts.
Meaning: Hopefully, no one will notice that the rest is vinyl.
Term: Medium-density housing.
Translation: The developer wants to cram as many lots on an acre as the law allows.
Phrase: You can’t put a wall around (insert jurisdiction) to keep people out.
Interpretation: Don’t put a wall around (insert jurisdiction) until after I’ve got my property rezoned.
Statement: You need housing for working-class families.
Meaning: We have a right to build the cheapest housing possible.
Statement: This will add to the (insert jurisdiction) tax digest.
Translation: For every dollar of taxes this development generates, (insert jurisdiction) will have to spend six for schools, police and fire protection and other infrastructure.
Term: Architect’s rendering.
Translation: Visual fiction produced to show what a subdivision could look like in a perfect world.
Term: Greenspace
Meaning: Flood plains, creeks, swamps, steep slopes and other areas unsuitable for building, which the developer is willing to “sacrifice” to meet local greenspace requirements.
Term: Buffer zones.
Translation: Areas in which the developer will not construct anything, but in which future owners will park heavy trucks and no one will maintain.
Term: Neighborhood covenants.
Meaning: Rules governing what’s acceptable in the development, but which you’ll have to go to court to enforce at the risk of creating future domestic incidents.
Term: Variance.
Definition: Waiver of zoning law - beneficial to the person who gets it but detrimental to the community.
Hopefully, this will help people better understand what is going on in planning commission meetings. See you there.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
August 6, 2003

Don’t put Britt around rocking chairs
There’s an old saying that “Cats with long tails ought not hang around rocking chairs.”
By the same token, politicians who don’t want to be embarrassed ought not to show their tail in public, either.
But such was the case Monday night when county commissioner Stacey Britt upbraided county public works director Stan Brown over a list of road pavings.
Britt was piqued that he didn’t have a say as to what roads were put on that list from his district.
But what really set the commissioner to squawking was Brown’s explanation that the road-paving list was done based on engineering criteria and that he didn’t want to see the process “become political.”
Rock, rock, rock.
Britt exploded, decrying the implication that he, the consummate back-slapping politician, wanted to inject politics into the process.
Heavens! Who would ever think that good ol’boy Britt would inject “politics” into any public issue, including road paving?
Well, truth is, just about everyone would think that.
Given that real estate magnet Britt has been one of the leading voices attempting to takeover the county water authority so he can control where water and sewer lines are run, and given that he views politics as nothing more than an extension of his real estate business, just about everyone in Jackson County has reason to believe Britt could and would play politics with local road paving projects. Help a friend here, do a favor there — to Britt, it’s all just part of the political game, the “art of the deal.” His outburst of defensiveness was just the rocking chair hitting his tail.
Alas, Britt didn’t stop there. He went on to demand that instead of sending email updates to him about county matters, as is done for other commissioners, he should receive personal phone call updates.
“Everybody knows I don’t read email.... pick up the phone and talk with me,” said the technology-challenged commissioner.
What next? A gold-plated chair to sit in at BOC meetings?
But please, no rocking chairs.
Some fat-cat public officials might yowl when they stick their tail in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 6, 2003

AYP and BOC: Both a mess
If you read the story elsewhere in this edition about local schools that did not meet the federal/state “adequate yearly progress” criteria, don’t be alarmed.
Yes, two schools in Jackson County are on that list of “needs improvement” schools, West Jackson Middle School and East Jackson Middle School. But the AYP criteria is so misleading, so blatantly unfair that it has no meaning.
Under the system, which is part of the federal “no child left behind” laws, each school must perform at a certain level, not only overall, but also within small subgroups of students.
In the case of WJMS and EJMS, the subgroup of students with a “disability” did not meet the standards. Because of those few students, perhaps 20-30 from a school of 500 students, the entire school has been labeled as “needs improvement.”
It’s a crazy system, one that does not reflect the true picture in local education. Good schools can get on the “needs improvement” list while bad schools, because of their particular demographics, don’t make the list at all.
Parents, and indeed all taxpayers, should be outraged at this system of public school evaluations. If evaluations are to have any meaning, they have to be fair and objective.
The AYP system is neither fair nor objective.
So what can you do?
Contact your state legislative officials and members of Congress. Tell them you don’t like the criteria being used under the NCLB act. Let them know that you are interested in an honest evaluation of local schools, not one based on criteria that is skewed toward failure.
No school should be judged just by the academic performance of a handful of mentally-challenged and disabled students, as happened this year in WJMS and EJMS.


Editorial
The Commerce News
August 6, 2003

Parents’ Role Huge In Students’ Success Rate
It’s back-to-school time and parents have high expectations as their children enter the next grade. Too often, however, parents assume that all of the variables for success or failure rest with the child or the school system. In truth, parents have more to do with a child’s success or failure than the school system.
Much of what children need seems obvious. Still, some children arrive at school without a decent breakfast, with too little sleep or with other home-based concerns unrelated to school but which keep them from focusing on school. Many children go through their entire school careers without any oversight by their parents on homework, on getting to school on time or even about their grades. Too many have nothing to read at the home and no parental interest in their success.
The climate for learning begins at home. Georgia’s dismal ranking among the state in educational achievement is more a reflection of problems in students’ home lives than in the quality of curricula or instruction in the schools. Unfortunately, school systems are expected to compensate for the societal problems children bring to school from their homes.
Fortunately, most children come from stable homes, but even they can benefit from parental attention to their school activities. The parents who know what their children are studying, who check over their children’s homework, who make sure the kids don’t stay up too late and that they have a good breakfast are the parents who won’t find out four days from the end of the grading period that their child is off course. Attentive parents will be in a position to make sure their children get the most out of what the teacher and the schools can offer.
Success in school requires a three-way partnership of students, parents and teachers, with each entity fulfilling its role. The educators are anxious to do and capable of doing their parts, but they need the cooperation of parents if students are to be successful.

Still No Reason For City To Approve Annexations
Beset with proposals for new subdivisions almost every month, the city of Commerce needs to borrow a phrase from the anti-drug propaganda wars. They need to learn to “Just Say No” to people who want to bring land into the city to develop it for residential housing.
Last week, the city planning commission recommended denial of two zoning for annexation requests for R-3 zoning. This week, the city council appears ready to accept those parcels – at R-2 in one case and R-1E on the other.
The question we ask is why?
Unless the city government just wants more people, why would it bring in more potential residential growth? It is true that R-2 is less detrimental than R-3 because fewer houses would be involved, and equally true that R-1E, which requires one-acre lots and larger houses, is vastly better than R-3. But between the two developments, the city could pave the way for 200 new houses to be built.
If those properties are annexed, developed and built out, expect 400 more children in the school system. Already inside the city limits are more than 400 other lots that, if developed and built out, could send 800 more children to the city schools. In other words, our resources will be stretched excessively by what we already have inside the city. It is not prudent to accept more.
Commerce officials appear to subscribe to the “bigger is better” theory of city population. Do they feel the same way about the bigger tax bills needed to support all these new houses?


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