Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 8, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 8, 2004

New Project Will Set A Precedent For Development
It is expected that the Commerce City Council will approve rezoning of 276 acres in the triangle where old U.S. 441 and the 441 bypass meet. The property, proposed as a “mixed-use” development containing commercial property and 500 residences, was to have been rezoned to C-2, then parts would be re-zoned for residential use once the details were worked out.
The rezoning has been postponed a month, but there will be both commercial and residential tracts.
The developer wants 253 lots a hair bigger than a quarter acre for single-family houses and to build 250 units of townhouses. To this point, the city has opposed houses on such small lots and townhouses in general. For example, it rejected a proposal for the White Hill School Road just recently that would have put 114 houses on small lots in order to preserve open space, opting to allow the developer standard R-1 lots of 32,500 square feet – three-quarter-acre lots.
The Commerce Planning Commission has been vigilant – too much so, some say – about rejecting developments of “starter houses,” and what it considers high-density housing over concerns of how the development will look after it is occupied and what its effect will be on the school system.
Now comes a proposal by one of the Atlanta area’s top developers with something Commerce needs and its officials covet – a significant commercial development. To get that, however, the city must accept the very types of housing it has heretofore shunned.
The houses proposed in David Chatham’s initial proposal are priced starting at $149,000 and are on, by our standards, tiny lots. Some of them have one-car garages. They would work well if occupied by childless couples or retired people, but what will the neighborhood look like with three to four cars per house and the usual smattering of boats, campers, recreational vehicles, trampolines and children’s playhouses that are typical of today’s households?
The plan also calls for 250 townhouse units priced to suit the people at the start or the end of their careers. Current zoning allows a density of only four dwelling units per acre of apartments or townhouses. This plan has a much higher level.
What officials struggle with is how to reduce the number of houses and townhouses without scaring the developer off. Can they reduce the number by half or a third?
Another concern is the commercial sector, which fronts on the bypass from Georgia 326 south. City officials would like to see restaurants, chain stores, boutiques and other stores, plus the big-box anchor of a grocery store. They do not want development comprising convenience stores, pawn shops, check-cashing businesses and the like that make Buford Highway in Atlanta look sleazy. How can they protect against that?
The good news is that Chatham doesn’t develop second-rate projects, and in upcoming work sessions with the planning commission, he may be able to allay those fears. But this is new ground for the city and whatever it does here sets a precedent. We want to make sure it is a good precedent.


Editorials
The Commerce News
December 8, 2004

City Becoming More Proactive At Last
Commerce officials are for obvious reason mum about the details of plans to acquire land for an industrial park, but the fact that the city council is even considering the creation of an industrial park marks a change for the better.
For too long, Commerce waited for industrial prospects to fall into its lap, then felt like a jilted bride when major prospects chose developed land with utilities and roads in place elsewhere instead of more expensive raw land and promises of infrastructure here.
That is changing. The city is becoming more proactive in promoting economic development. It is working with the county government, Industrial Development Authority and is warming its relationship with the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce. The city is finally becoming an economic development player instead of a bystander.
This is important for the future of the city and the survival of the city school system. Industry is property-tax heavy. Commercial facilities also yield property taxes, but their main contribution is in sales taxes. Both broaden the scope of job opportunities. As the number of houses grows relentlessly, Commerce – like any city or county – must have commiserate industrial and commercial growth to remain healthy.
Developers are also starting to show more interest in and around the city. Major potential industrial sites are being annexed near the Maysville Road interchange at Interstate 85, for which the city is extending water and sewer lines. Bana Road, the extension of Steve Reynolds Industrial Boulevard (formerly Progress Road) and the extension of Steven B. Tanger Boulevard are all promising. Atlanta’s premiere development company plans a mixed-use (commercial and residential) development on Homer Road.
Economic development requires patience and persistence. For Commerce to prosper, for it to keep its independent school system, it is crucial that the city make economic development a permanent top priority. The city’s interest in developing an industrial park is the latest sign that Commerce is doing just that.


Baseball’s Drug Problem
America’s favorite past-time needs to get serious about its drug problem. Those who follow Major League Baseball have been aware for years of allegations of illegal drug use – primarily a variety of steroids and the Human Growth Hormone – among marquee players such as Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and others. The problem is by no means limited to baseball, but only baseball is doing so very little about it. It just developed a policy regarding steroids in 2002, is only now implementing testing with penalties and has yet to outlaw the use of Human Growth Hormone.
The drugs give players greater speed and strength, artificially enhancing their abilities. They also allow players to threaten or break some of baseball’s most cherished milestones. The record-setting single-season home run performances of Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds are now believed to be drug-enhanced. Bonds, named most valuable player in the National League four straight times, could surpass Henry Aaron’s career home run mark of 755 this year – because of performance-enhancing drugs.
Let’s call it for what it is – cheating. When a sport followed by millions of young people refuses to get serious about cheating, it not only encourages more baseball players to cheat, but it also sends the message to kids that such drug use is both OK and necessary to succeed at a higher level.
With fines, suspensions, even asterisks in the record books, MLB must respond. Drugs are tarnishing the great American past-time.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 8, 2004

Storm clouds gathering on ‘diversity’ front
Although college campuses make up only a small part of the nation’s overall population, they are often at the edge of public discourse.
That has been true for decades and came into clear focus during the riotous 1960s when college campuses became the focal point of both racial integration and protest against the Vietnam War.
By the mid-1970s, most campuses had settled down. Integration was a fact which had been accepted by a majority of citizens. And as Vietnam waned, so did the protests.
But other campus issues were left to simmer. Now, a perfect storm of college-based controversies may be forming that will once again push the halls of academia onto the public stage.
Two recent studies show that most college campuses lean heavily to the political left and that professors are overwhelmingly Democrats.
That’s not shocking news to anyone who has been around a college campus — liberal ideology has long been the dominate political force at most colleges.
It is, after all, on college campuses where political correctness has run amuck with “speech codes,” sensitivity training and other efforts to make students conform to the prevailing group-think mentality.
But now, following the re-election of Republican George Bush, conservatives are clamoring for more balance in campus political ideology.
Some charge that there is an anti-conservative bias on college campuses that suppresses the rise of conservative teachers and professors.
Others charge that conservative students, especially those who write for campus publications, are routinely harassed by college officials over their political views.
Over the last two years, these voices clamoring for more intellectual diversity on college campuses have become stronger. Conservative students are pushing back harder against campus speech codes and other efforts many consider nothing more than political brainwashing.
And Republican political leaders, at both the state and federal levels, are likely to wage war on what they believe are liberal biases on many college campuses in administration and hiring.
The second front of this converging political storm comes from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Some academic leaders are making a push to create greater campus “diversity” by having race again become a factor in student selection.
That debate has heated up here at The University of Georgia where a proposal to reintroduce race as one criteria for student admission is getting a lot of public and political flak. Race as a criteria was tossed out a few years ago following a lawsuit by some white students.
That issue is complex. While many say that “merit” should be the only criteria for university admission, building a consensus on what is “merit” proves elusive.
Is “merit” a student’s SAT score? His high school grade average?
And in athletics, “merit” often has less to do with a student’s academic skills than it does his or her athletic skills. Should we now also hold all student-athletes to the same standard as non-student athletes?
Whatever course that debate over “merit” takes, the move to again inject race as an admissions criteria comes at a bad time.
For example, if one makes an argument for racial preference in student selections, then how can he in turn oppose intellectual diversity by promoting more conservatives to professorships?
Yet that is the ideological clash which is gathering in today’s political storm clouds.
Liberal voices which clamor for more racial or ethnic diversity on college campuses overwhelmingly oppose any efforts toward creating intellectual or political diversity by accommodating conservative voices.
To many liberals, diversity is a one-way street; campus conservatives should be muzzled and harassed with “speech codes” and more sensitivity training, while accommodations and considerations should be given to special groups based on ethnic, racial or even sexual preferences.
But liberals can’t have it both ways.
And in today’s more conservative political culture, the pursuit of an ethnic diversity agenda is going to clash headlong into a counter-conservative agenda calling for more academic diversity.
The result could make for a stormy season on America’s college campuses.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
Decembeer 8, 2004

Arcade project needs to be fully aired before approval
The proposed 2,400-home planned community on property to be annexed into Arcade should be fully aired before it is allowed to proceed.
This project would be the largest in the history of Jackson County and would have a tremendous impact far beyond the borders of Arcade.
It would impact local schools.
It would impact traffic and transportation planning.
And it would impact a host of other infrastructure needs in the county for decades to come.
In addition, the siting of this project could open the floodgates for other similar high-density projects in the area. Thus, the impact could ripple in ways that are unforeseen today.
This is a precedent we find deeply troubling for the future of Jackson County. Although such large projects would have an impact far beyond their borders, by annexing into a small town with weak leaders, or complicit zoning practices, a developer can bypass the county land use plan and zoning.
That puts the future of Jackson County into the hands of a few small town city councils, many of which lack the background or experience to deal with such large-scale projects.
But what really concerns us about this particular development is that it is being done with a minimum of public input and government transparency.
Indeed, it appears that Arcade leaders have already agreed in secret with the developers to annex the property out of county low-density zoning and give the developers high-density zoning within the city of Arcade.
Of course, there will be hearings on that, but those may be only for show. A deal has apparently already been cut behind closed doors.
In addition, the timing of this development’s approval indicates that it is designed to win support before the current county board of commissioners leaves office. One county commissioner is believed to be a silent partner in the deal.
We don’t necessarily oppose planned community developments in Jackson County.
But we do believe that any mega-development which will add 2,400 homes and 6,000 people, including 1,000 new students, deserves to have some serious public discussion before it is approved.
Everyone involved in this deal should put all their cards on the table. Public feedback should be solicited. A healthy airing of all the issues should take place.
If the project is good for Jackson County, then show the public why it will be good and how the negative aspects can be mitigated.
That such a large mega-deal is being done in virtual silence and at warp speed concerns us, and it should also be of concern to all Jackson County citizens.

 


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