Jackson County Opinions...

MARCH 31, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 31, 2004

Legitimate Projects Or Pipe Dreams?
Are they legitimate projects or a speculator’s pipe dream? Those are the questions to be asked when someone proposes a radical-sounding development project.
I’d have put Mulberry Plantation, now Traditions of Braselton, in the fantasyland category, but it is a reality and lots are reportedly selling briskly. So much for what I know.
A 1,100-lot subdivision with a shopping center and 500,000-gallon-per-day waste treatment plant at Nicholson? Fantasy. A shopping center on the Maysville Road with a movie complex, bowling alley, professional office space, banks, a major grocery chain and, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, an ice skating rink? Same category.
Truth be told, I thought Joe Craven was addled when he rolled out the blueprints for The Pottery two decades (or more) ago at his Gillsville office. He seems to have done pretty well. Who’d want to live in the middle of nowhere, I thought, when Jack Holder unveiled the plans for Staghorn Plantation. Lots of people, it turned out.
Still, a healthy skepticism is called for when someone brings forth plans for the first major project in an area devoid of major projects. I would not blink at the idea of an 1,100-lot development in West Jackson; in Commerce or Nicholson, I wonder what the developer has been smoking. And yet one of these days it is inevitable that some seeming pie-in-the-sky project will be built in Nicholson, Commerce or Maysville. And, one will succeed, which will encourage bigger and more complex developments.
There’s gold in them there hills for the people who know how, when and where to bring out a project, for people who’ve seen it work in similar situations and know what it takes. Maybe now that Nicholson Grocery is gone, Kroger or Publix can make a buck in Nicholson and 1,100 families will buy houses in the same neighborhood.
It’s hard to imagine what changes that kind of development would bring to a town where most housing starts are still mobile homes and the very idea of zoning is cursed. Everything from traffic to politics will evolve (change slowly over time), just as it has in Braselton, where not long ago every city council member had the same last name; today, there are no Braseltons in the Braselton government. Those new Nicholson residents will be more affluent, multi-cultural and will expect more from their government than Momma ‘nem would dare to ask. They’ll be more transient, slower to put down roots and they won’t care how it’s always been done in Nicholson.
That’s the universal truth in Northeast Georgia. While we may be able to project population patterns, we’ve no way to know exactly how they will affect our daily lives. There will be more congestion, more jobs, more taxes, more amenities and more opportunity. As we take advantage of the opportunities, we’ll curse the traffic and the newcomers who’ve never been inside a chickenhouse or been to a Commerce-Jefferson football game.
Eleven hundred new houses in Nicholson? Can’t happen, you say? Maybe not this time, but sooner or later, you can count on it.


Editorial
The Commerce News
March 31, 2004

Growth Must Be Held To Higher Standards
Commerce’s struggle to figure out how to respond to the burgeoning pressures of growth were evident Monday night as the city council and planning commission spoke informally with a consultant who will likely upgrade all of the city’s development ordinances.
Some participants admitted to wanting no growth but most expressed an interest in taking steps to assure that future developments – particularly residential – are more aesthetically pleasing and of a better quality than what is being built under the current city ordinances. For example, one can build a 900-square-foot house today; that could be changed to 1,200, 1,400 or 1,600-square feet. There was also sentiment for prohibiting vinyl siding on exterior walls, requiring (or not requiring) parks in new subdivisions and how to transition from a market saturated with “affordable” housing to something better.
Bill Ross of Ross & Associates, will have his work cut out for him, but it is critical for Commerce to take steps to assure that as growth accelerates, what is built is of lasting value. That will require changes in and coordination among the city’s zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance and its building standards (plus its ordinances dealing with signs, erosion and sedimentation, storm water, parking, landscaping and possibly others). The idea is that the city will have a comprehensive set of ordinances all tied into each other, to direct the growth.
City officials, bracing for the next round of growth, want to incorporate the lessons learned from the past five to seven years rather than make the same mistakes. The consultant should have gotten at least one point Monday. Commerce officials are united in their desire for higher standards and better quality housing. The devil will be in the details, but that’s a good start.

‘Rendezvous’ A Chance To Make A Difference
The Upper Oconee Watershed Network will offer an opportunity Saturday for people interested in the water quality in local streams and rivers. At its seventh annual “River Rendezvous” at 9:00 Saturday morning at Sandy Creek Nature Center (on U.S. 441 just above Athens), you can learn to take water samples to help monitor the health of local waterways. The public is invited; there is no charge.
Water quality is also becoming of paramount interest to state and local governments. Already, local governments are being required to monitor streams to make sure they are not over their “total maximum daily loads” (TMDLs) of various pollutants. In Jackson County, the major pollutant concern is fecal coliform.
The Upper Oconee Watershed Network has volunteers who sample streams in Clarke, Barrow and Oconee counties. It would like to expand that monitoring to Jackson, Madison and a host of other counties. At Saturday’s meeting, volunteers will get instructions on how to take samples and will be sent out to exercise that new expertise, after which the samples will be brought back for analysis.
Volunteers can perform regular sampling to help keep local waters safe by identifying polluted streams and health hazards that need immediate attention. They may also find they can do the same thing for their local governments, which will be responsible for testing water quality and meeting TMDL standards.
The UOWN River Rendezvous is an opportunity to make a contribution to the environmental health not just of Jackson County but of every county downstream. Water is a precious resource deserving of citizen interest. Now citizens have a chance to make a difference.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 31, 2004

Political season approaching
Like jonquils, politicians will soon be blooming this spring. The last week of April will see the opening of qualifying for a host of local offices.
Some planning to run for office have already begun working even before qualifying opens. Cammie Wilkes and Michael Carroll have announced their plans to run for Clerk of Court to replace long-time clerk Reba Parks, who is retiring. And Eugene Brogan, the county marshall, has been campaigning against incumbent sheriff Stan Evans.
While there are likely to be other county-wide races at play, the ones being talked about most are the three seats up for re-election on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. District commissioners Stacey Britt (Jefferson area) and Sammy Thomason (Commerce area) along with at-large chairman Harold Fletcher are all up for re-election this political season.
Prospective opponents have a lot to chew on in a campaign for those three seats. Seldom have I seen a group of leaders as controversial as the BOC has been during the last three years.
Thomason, of course, was the mouthpiece on the BOC pushing for the new courthouse site closer to Commerce, in part because it would be a dig at the “Jefferson establishment” which is despised by some Commerce leaders. And it was Thomason, who’s amateurish mishandling of the Walgreen’s mega-project near Commerce, that embarrassed Jackson County with state economic development officials.
One assumes that Thomason will stand for re-election for his district this year, although there has been some political speculation that he might opt to run for the new state House seat that will include Commerce, the southern half of Madison County and Elbert County. Among the names of those who are reportedly considering a challenge to Thomason are Rob Jordan, Henry Slocum and Allen Lacey. None of those men have told me they plan to run, but their names have been floating around for several weeks as possible candidates
Over in Jefferson, Britt’s plans are also unclear, although one can assume he plans to run for re-election. While Britt has attempted to stay in the background (some would say sitting on the fence) with some of the BOC’s more controversial issues, his ties to large land developers has become an increasing subject of disdain inside his district. While it would be unfair, indeed illegal, to say that people involved in real estate shouldn’t hold public office, the potential for conflict is much greater with real estate developers than with, say, an auto mechanic. Government today deals with so many details related to growth and development that every vote on a rezoning, land use or infrastructure project holds the potential for conflict if a public official is a developer.
Among the names floating around Jefferson as possible opponents to Britt are Bill Bryan and Tom Crow.
In the chairman’s seat, Fletcher as been a master of manipulation during the past three years. He has effectively played his fellow commissioners against each other in ways that have advanced his own agenda.
But figuring out Fletcher’s agenda has been difficult. It appears to be part ego, part payback for some long ago grudge and part self-interest for his real estate dealings.
It’s anybody’s guess who will stand to run against Fletcher. Some speculation has fallen on water authority manager Jerry Waddell, Fletcher’s greatest political nemesis. It’s an open secret that Fletcher intends to take over the county water authority and have Waddell fired this summer. Is that motive enough for the former BOC chairman Waddell to challenge Fletcher at the ballot box?
And then there has been speculation that perhaps former water authority chairman Elton Collins would offer against Fletcher. Collins has high name-recognition in the county and has stood out-front in opposing the BOC’s attempts to take over the water authority. And he has a long, unblemished track record of public service in the county.
Will either Waddell or Collins make a run against Fletcher?
I don’t think so. Both have reportedly said they’re not interested. But one never knows for sure what event might change that feeling.
Other names floating around as possible challengers to Fletcher are former county commissioner and former state representative Pat Bell, and the leader of the courthouse lawsuit against the BOC, Tim Venable.
Which brings up another wildcard in the BOC races — what happens if the Georgia Supreme Court shocks everyone by ruling against the BOC? It would, overnight, turn this political season upside down.
I suppose there are lots of wildcards in politics. A lot could change before July.
Indeed, a lot can change before qualifying closes in April.
Stay tuned for more as the opening chapter in this election year gets written.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
March 31, 2004

Memo to Arcade: It’s called ‘working together’
As reported several weeks ago, some Arcade officials think the town needs to get into the water and sewerage business. This week, they made that desire clear during a shared services meeting to renegotiate the old House Bill 489 contracts.
This is a huge issue for all citizens in Jackson County and has several potential problems.
First, Arcade leaders are terribly naive and misguided in their attempts to get into the water and sewerage business. That small town does not have either the financial resources nor political expertise to handle its own water and sewerage system.
The most telling comment came from Arcade Mayor Doug Haynie who said, “If a developer comes to us we struggle. We have to go to the water authority and say, ‘Daddy, can I borrow some money....’ We don’t have the ability to control our destiny as far as development goes.”
Apparently Mayor Haynie has never heard the phrase “working together.” What makes the mayor think the county water authority isn’t interested in helping the town with water and sewerage development? The truth is, the town does have complete control over its development. The water authority is always looking for new customers. Together, the authority and city can provide a variety of services to potential developers.
Which brings us to the second point in this issue: The shared services agreement was designed to avoid just what Arcade is wanting to do, that is duplicate existing services. When services are duplicated, it costs all taxpayers more money. There’s no reason why Arcade can’t work with the water authority to develop water and sewerage infrastructure in the town. Why duplicate what’s already available?
Finally, if county leaders give into Arcade’s demand to take away service area from the county water authority, that will open the floodgates to more demands to chop up the authority’s service area in other areas of the county. Pendergrass has indicated it wants to get into the water and sewerage business. And Commerce officials want to extend their town’s water and sewerage service further out as well.
But in doing all of that, it will take potential customers away from the county water authority, leaving fewer customers and areas to pay the authority’s bills. And remember, one of those bills is the debt on the Bear Creek Reservoir.
We oppose any move to carve out water service for Arcade by cannibalizing territory from the county water authority. Officials in that town obviously have no idea of the huge costs involved, the technical issues to be overcome and the long-term consequences of such an action.
We wonder, why doesn’t Arcade want to work with the water authority rather than burden citizens with duplicated services?


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