The Mulberry Plantation

Golf Community Controversy...

Good for Jackson County

or Unwanted Growth?


A Compilation of Stories and Opinions

June, 1998-January, 1999


News Stories:
JUN 03-Project Announced
JUN 24-WJ Project on Agenda
JUL 01-Planners Delay Action
JUL 22-Project Again on Agenda
JUL 22-RDC Study
JUL 29-Planners say "No" to Project
AUG 5-Buckhead Plans Revisions
SEP 2-100 homes cut from WJ project
OCT7-Stage Set for Vote
OCT 14-BOC gives OK
JAN 13, 1999-Buckhead Still Owner
 
Opinion Pieces:
JUL 22-Project Needs Vision Column
JUL 29-Clark's Letter
JUL 29-Growth Myths Column
AUG 5-Rural Character Column
AUG 5-Elam's Letter
AUG 12-Bolton's Letter
AUG 12-Leonhart Letter
AUG 12-McDaniel Letter
AUG 12-Sevener Letter
AUG 12 Lack of Vision Column
AUG 19-Johnson Letter
SEP 30-McDaniel Letter
OCT 14-McDaniel Letter
OCT 14-Temper Tantrum Column

June 3, 1998
News Story, The Jackson Herald
Golf course, rec facilities to anchor Hwy. 124 project
BY ANGELA GARY
One of the largest residential developments ever in Northeast Georgia is being planned for the West Jackson area.
Plans for Mulberry Plantation, which would bring a 1,650-home planned community to Hwy. 124 and Gum Springs Church Rd. in West Jackson, were filed last week in the Jackson County Planning Commission office. The project would be built around a golf course, recreation center, equestrian park and retirement village, according to a conceptual map. The development is expected to take 10 years to be completely built and would total some $400 million in taxable property, according to project leader Doug Elam.
The commission will consider a rezoning request for the development when it meets at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 25, in the Administrative Building in Jefferson. If approval is given, work at the site could begin this fall, say project leaders.
In the meantime, the potential regional impact of such a large development has led the Jackson County government to ask the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center (RDC) to study the plans and make recommendations.
RDC director Jim Dove said his organization will review the plans to gauge the regional impact, whether the utilities and transportation plans are correct and whether it will impact adjoining municipalities. The RDC has 30 days to do its report, but it may not take that long, he said. This is the first time Dove recalls the RDC being asked to look into a planned residential development in Jackson County.
Buckhead International, led by Elam, is planning for the development on 1,143 acres on Hwy. 124, with frontage on Jackson Trail and Gum Springs Church Road. The site will literally wrap around West Jackson Middle School in a North-South configuration. The main entrance is planned off Hwy. 124 at the northern end of the project near the existing county water tank. Entrances would also be located on Jackson Trail Road at the south end of the development and Gum Springs Church Road on the east.
Elam said one of the biggest benefits to the county is the taxable property it would bring in over a 10-year period.
"This will start out slowly," he said. "It will not be some big crush of people and cars in there all in one fell swoop. It will be a gradual thing that would happen anyway with normal growth. This is a solid effort to create a kind of village atmosphere."
The owners are asking for a zoning classification of "planned unit development."
"The flexibility of the planned unit development allows a very desirable balance between open space, recreation, roadways, utility and a small amount of retail convenience activity," Elam said in a letter to the planning office. "...We feel that the zoning classification of planned unit development will allow us to proceed with development of an outstanding residential and recreation facility which will be a source of pride to Jackson County and to all of the surrounding area citizens."
One of the first parts of the development would be two golf courses that would include a practice range and a club house. The sprinkler system at the golf course would be used as the spray fields for a sewer system planned in the development. The property is already served with water by the Jackson County Water Authority.
"This system will be planned in such a way that will enable it to be transferred to Jackson County municipalities as needed, or required, for future expansion of waste water treatment in Jackson County," Elam wrote.
The roads, streets and recreational areas would be the next part of the development. As for the residential development, Elam said it allows for a variety of different size lots and price ranges. He said the project will begin "slow" with 100 houses in place during the first two years of the development.
The plans also call for a self-contained retirement village that would offer cottages, apartments, recreational amenities, social activities and a skilled nursing facility for senior citizens.
Plans also call for making a memorial site of an old cemetery which has a Revolutionary War soldier and French general buried in it.
"We will reserve that and fence it," Elam said. "We plan to memorialize it and do a park there."
Elam said Buckhead has owned the property for more than 10 years and had always planned for this type of development. But the plans for Mulberry Plantation began about two years ago. Buckhead has also owned other property in Jackson County, notably a large tract at Exit 51 along the Jett Roberts Rd. which it recently sold to Pattillo Construction for a future industrial development site.

June 24, 1998
News Story-The Jackson Herald
 
WJ project on planning agenda
But no vote is expected pending study results
BY ANGELA GARY
Plans for a 1,650-home subdivision will be discussed by the developers when the Jackson County Planning Commission meets Thursday night. But action is not expected to be taken until next month on a rezoning request which would allow the massive project to proceed, according to officials.
The planning commission will meet at 7 p.m. in the State Courtroom in the Administrative Building in Jefferson. Buckhead International has asked to rezone 1,143 acres on Hwy. 124, Gum Springs Church Road and Jackson Trail Road from A-2 to PUD for the development of Mulberry Plantation, a "recreational, residential and neighborhood commercial development."
The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the request and take comments from the property owners and other interested citizens. While the commission could make a recommendation Thursday on the rezoning, that isn't expected since the county has not yet received a regional impact study being done by the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will have final say on the rezoning request.
The regional impact study must be complete by July 17, according to RDC officials. RDC director Jim Dove said his organization will review the plans to gauge the potential regional impact, whether the utilities and transportation plans are correct and whether it will impact adjoining municipalities.
The project is one of the largest residential developments ever in Northeast Georgia. Mulberry Plantation would be built around a golf course, recreation center, equestrian park and retirement village, according to a conceptual map. The development is expected to take 10 years to be completely built and would total some $400 million in taxable property, according to project leader Doug Elam.
If approval is given, work at the site could begin this fall, say project leaders.
Buckhead International, led by Elam, is planning for the development on 1,143 acres on Hwy. 124, with frontage on Jackson Trail and Gum Springs Church Road. The site will literally wrap around West Jackson Middle School in a North-South configuration. The main entrance is planned off Hwy. 124 at the northern end of the project near the existing county water tank. Entrances would also be located on Jackson Trail Road at the south end of the development and Gum Springs Church Road on the east.

July 1, 1998
News Story-The Jackson Herald
 
Planners delay action on Hwy. 124 project
BY BERT BRANTLEY
About half of the nearly 100 people who attended Thursday's Jackson County Planning Commission meeting left disappointed, as the group delayed discussion and action on a rezoning request for a 1,650-home subdivision and golf community on Hwy. 124.
The commission is waiting for a regional impact study to be completed by the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center. Planning commission chairman Keith Hayes said the RDC is expected to have the impact study completed by July 17, just in time for the commission's next meeting on July 23.
"We thought we would have the study by now," Hayes told the crowd. "We want to make a sound decision on this request. We need to have all the information available to us."
Attorney Lane Fitzpatrick advised the board to table the request. He said the county is required to consider the regional impact study if it is completed within 30 days of when the study is first requested. The local government is free to go ahead and act on the request if the study is not completed in time, he added.
"My advice to the board is that it is premature to take the request up tonight (Thursday)," Fitzpatrick said. "My opinion would be to hold the public hearing after we have the benefit of reviewing the findings of the study."
RDC director Jim Dove said his organization will review the plans to gauge the potential regional impact, whether the utilities and transportation plans are correct and whether it will impact adjoining municipalities.
Buckhead International, led by Doug Elam, is planning for the development on 1,143 acres on Hwy. 124, with frontage on Jackson Trail and Gum Springs Church Roads. The site wraps around West Jackson Middle School, with the main entrance planned off Hwy. 124 at the northern end of the project, near the existing county water tank. Entrances would also be located on Jackson Trail Road at the south end of the development and Gum Springs Church Road on the east.
The rezoning request asks the planning commission to rezone the property from A-2 to Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the development of Mulberry Plantation, a "recreational, residential and neighborhood commercial development." The project is one of the largest residential developments ever in Northeast Georgia.
The planning commission's next meeting is scheduled for July 23 at 7 p.m. in the Administrative Building in Jefferson. The commission is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning request at that meeting and make a recommendation to the board of commissioners. The BOC has final say on the request.
Mulberry Plantation would be built around a golf course, recreation center, equestrian park and retirement village, according to a conceptual map. Elam said the development is expected to take 10 years to be completely built and would total some $400 million in taxable property.

July 22, 1998
News Story-The Jackson Herald
 
Hwy. 124 project on planners' agenda Thurs.
Opposition organizing to fight county's largest planned development
BY ANGELA GARY
While a regional planning group has declared that a proposed 1,650-home development in Jackson County is "in the best interest of the state," opposition to the project is growing among some area residents.
The Jackson County Planning Commission will consider the request from Buckhead International for a rezoning of the land when it meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Administrative Building in Jefferson. The owners are asking for a zoning classification of "planned unit development." The Jackson County Board of Commissioners would then consider the request when it meets on Aug. 4.
The Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center reviewed the proposal for Mulberry Plantation on Hwy. 124 and Gum Springs Church Rd. and found there are no conflicts with regional plans, goals or policies. But the study did not address what impact the development would have on Jackson County.
The residential development is one of the largest ever planned in Northeast Georgia. The plan has led to a petition drive in the West Jackson area and flyers in opposition to the project being circulated. Those in opposition also plan to speak at Thursday's planning commission meeting.
"My concern is that when the cluster homes go in and they put that many houses on that small of a tract of land it is going to set a precedent for the rest of Jackson County," said Susan Bolton, who circulated flyers in the area. "It will end up like Gwinnett, overcrowded where the traffic is a problem and where we are not living in the country any more and schools can't keep up...When you have nice homes on larger tracts of land it will preserve the community and the country."
The regional impact study by the RDC included recommendations on the design of the project, the traffic and water quality. This is the first time officials recall the RDC being asked to look into a planned residential development in Jackson County.
Buckhead International, led by Doug Elam, is planning for the development on 1,143 acres on Hwy. 124, with frontage on Jackson Trail and Gum Springs Church Roads. The site will literally wrap around West Jackson Middle School in a North-South configuration.
The main entrance is planned off Hwy. 124 at the northern end of the project near the existing county water tank. Entrances would also be located on Jackson Trail Road at the south end of the development and Gum Springs Church Road on the east.
The project would be built around a golf course, recreation center, equestrian park and retirement village, according to a conceptual map. The development is expected to take 10 years to be completely built and would total some $400 million in taxable property, according to Elam.
One of the first parts of the development would be two golf courses that would include a practice range and a clubhouse. The sprinkler system at the golf course would be used as the spray fields for a sewer system planned in the development. The property is already served with water by the Jackson County Water Authority.
The plans also call for a self-contained retirement village that would offer cottages, apartments, recreational amenities, social activities and a skilled nursing facility for senior citizens. Plans also call for making a memorial site of an old cemetery which has a Revolutionary War soldier and French general buried in it.

July 22, 1998
News Story-The Jackson Herald
 
RDC Study
A regional impact study by the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center about the proposed Mulberry Plantation project in Jackson County included four recommendations on the design of the project, the traffic and water quality. If the project moves forward, their suggestions are:
·Steps should be taken to assure that the design of the project protects the water quality of the Mulberry River and its tributary streams which are part of the water supply for the city of Winder and the Bear Creek Reservoir.
·The design of the project should preserve, rather than destroy, the significant wetlands on the southern portion of the site. This will help maintain the quality of water leaving the site as well as preserve valuable wetlands.
·If the project proceeds, Jackson County, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the cities of Hoschton and Braselton should carefully analyze the effects on traffic between I-85 and the project since it appears that much of the traffic to and from the Atlanta region will pass along State Route 53 through those towns.
·If the project is approved, Jackson County should analyze its impact on the Jackson County Comprehensive Plan. The current plan does not contemplate developments of this density nor the development of community sewerage systems. The effect of this should be evaluated and the comprehensive plan amended if necessary.

July 22, 1998
Column - Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
 
Large project needs vision
Occasionally, there are events which become defining moments, turning points around which the fulcrum of change expands its maximum leverage.
Thursday night, Jackson County could see the beginning of such a moment. Although it will not make the final decision, the Jackson County Planning Commission will consider a rezoning request which may well set the tone for much of the county's future growth pattern.
Mulberry Plantation is a proposed self-contained golf community planned along Hwy. 124 and Gum Springs Church Rd. which would cover 1,143 acres and hold 1,650 homes. It is, by far, the largest single project to ever come before local leaders for a rezoning and is one of the largest residential projects to ever be proposed in Northeast Georgia.
But if local leaders were hoping for some guidance from regional planning officials, they'll be disappointed. Although mandated by state law to review such projects, the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center gave no firm guidance in its review. The RDC said that the project would be "in the best interest of the state," but that study did not address the question of what would be in the best interest of Jackson County. It did, however, give a few hints about issues the project would raise in the area, including potential traffic problems between the development and Interstate 85.
As expected with such a large development, opposition has materialized to fight the plan. There'll probably be a room full of people at Thursday's hearing, many in opposition to the project. Perhaps not in the room, but certainly following the outcome, will be other developers who will measure the commission's response as a gauge for their own projects.
While such a large project raises a number of issues, there are two that stand out: First, how will the county handle traffic in and out of the area? At least at first, most of those buying homes in the development would come from the Gwinnett-Metro Atlanta area. They would want to commute to their jobs in the metro area.
But there's no good way to do that with the existing roads. Currently, most of that traffic would have to funnel through Braselton to reach I-85. Along with other residential growth in the West Jackson area, there's soon going to be a serious problem getting traffic onto I-85 at Exit 49.
There's a solution to that, of course: Put on-off ramps at the Hwy. 60 overpass and also at the Hwy. 332 overpass. Given the amount of growth in the area, that additional interstate access is needed. This project might be the kind of high-profile development needed to get state highway leaders interested in doing one or both of those interchanges.
But that, too, is a double-edged sword. The additional access will help commuters, but it will also encourage further development in the area.
The second major issue raised by the project is this question: What effect would such a high-density development have on future residential projects in that area? Would other developers point to this project as an avenue to justify their own high-density plans? And would the project encourage the development of county or city sewer infrastructure in the area, a mandatory requirement for high-density housing projects?
The county land use plan is of little use in settling this question. On the one hand, that plan calls for "medium density" development (houses on 1-3 acres) in the area of this project and says high-density projects should stay in the county's cities.
But in the next paragraph, the county land use plan says that regardless of density, residential developments should "retain and incorporate aesthetic qualities of the surrounding land" and says "open space design promotes clustering of smaller land lots in an effort to preserve the rural character of the land." This project seems to fit that definition with its open space for golf courses and greenways surrounding housing areas.
I don't envy local officials as they wrestle with this project. Its developers have a good reputation and the development as planned would be one of the premiere housing areas in Northeast Georgia.
And yet, Mulberry Plantation would not stand alone as an island. Its size would have an impact on the surrounding area and perhaps set a precedent for housing density that would be difficult to avoid in future projects.
Perhaps there's a middle ground in all of this. But finding that will take a lot more vision from our leaders than we've seen in recent years.

July 29, 1998
News Story-The Jackson Herald
 
Planners say 'No' to golf community
BOC to have final say on Mulberry Plantation plans
BY ANGELA GARY
Developers lost the first round last week in a bid for a rezoning to build a large golf community in the West Jackson area.
Now it will be up to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to decide if plans for Mulberry Plantation, a proposed 1,650-home development along Hwy. 124 and Gum Springs Church Rd., will move forward. The BOC will discuss the request at its "work session" meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and possibly take final action at its Aug. 11 meeting.
Last week, the Jackson County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of a request from Buckhead International to rezone the property from A2 to PUD for the project.
A number of people filled the Administrative Building in Jefferson Thursday night to speak against the plan. After a two-hour hearing, which included comments from 14 people, the commission voted 7-0 to recommend denial of the request. Some 200 people attended the meeting with the majority raising their hand in opposition to the project when questioned by commission chairman Keith Hayes.
 
OPPOSITION SPEAKS
Many of those who spoke in opposition to the plans said they don't want the "rural character" of the county to change and expressed concerns about the density of homes in the project. Several also said they had moved from Gwinnett County to get away from this type growth. Other problems cited were traffic, water, wastewater treatment and the potential influx of students to the county schools.
Bobby Sailors, who said he lives close to the site, presented a petition with the names of 331 people opposed to the plan. He said his concerns are with the impact the project would have on the county.
"Jackson County is sorely in need of a much stronger infrastructure," he said. "We don't have the fire services, the police services, ambulance services or road conditions to handle this type of magnitude of building...I moved here (from Gwinnett County) for the rural environment. I want to preserve the rural environment of this county. If it's going to grow, let it grow and meet the same standards that the current builders in this county had to meet. Put these houses on the same size of lots as the other builders have had to build them on."
Barbara Johnson, who lives on Oak Ave. in Jefferson, said the project would impact everyone in the county.
"Such a massive development, even if phased in over a 10-year period, will have a profound effect on the surrounding area and could overwhelm it," she said. "...What about secondary development on the outskirts of this project? Unless we have enforceable, protective legislation in place, by that I mean strict zoning ordinances, environment protection and legislation to protect historical, cultural and scenic resources, we're going to end up with unsightly sprawl and strip development radiating out like tentacles from this. This is not going to exist in isolation."
Marsha Grubbs, who also lives on Oak Ave. in Jefferson, spoke on concerns with the associated growth the development would bring to the county. She also said the county doesn't have the water and infrastructure in place now that are needed.
 
DEVELOPER DEFENDS PLANS
But Doug Elam, president of Buckhead International, said the property is "right in the middle of this tremendous growth that is coming northeast out of the Atlanta metropolitan area."
"That means there is a demand for the type of project we have planned," he said. "...This county is going to grow. That growth can occur piecemeal, spread out all over the place...We feel that this project would allow more of a concentration of people who are interested in living in an area."
Elam said he has already received numerous calls from people interested in living in the development. He also addressed the opposition he has received to the project.
"I have had a lot of letters and petitions from people who don't want to be disturbed out of the idyllic, tranquil way of life in Jackson County," he said. "I would have to remind you that Jackson County does not exist in a third world country. It does not exist in the wilds of the Yukon territory or Canada. It is right here in the shadow of the one of the largest, most dynamic metropolitan areas in the United States with an economy that is booming like crazy and no one knows when it will stop."
Elam said there would be no apartments in the development and that the homes would range from $100,000 to $500,000. He also addressed concerns with the number of homes planned in the development.
"The density, even though it may appear high in some points, is actually not all that unusual," he said. "More than one-third of our land will be left as open space. You cannot see that in any subdivision existing here now. More than one-third of it will be devoted to trees, grass, walking trails, equestrian trails and lakes. We think this is a decided departure in planning for Jackson County. The traffic will be widely diverse. There are four entrances planned that will go out on the different roads."
The plans call for first constructing a golf course and then beginning construction of the residences. Elam said it would take 10 years for the area to grow with 100 homes built in the first few years.
As for concerns on fire protection, Elam said the investors would provide two acres for the Jackson Trail Fire Department to build a new facility and funds for the construction. He also pointed out that Buckhead had already agreed for the county school system to hook onto the sewer system at the development. He said the company would also "work with the system" to build a new high school and elementary school in the West Jackson area.
Elam also said the development would not cost taxpayers anything since the investors would build the water, sewer and roads needed for the community.

July 29, 1998
Letter-The Jackson Herald
 
Opposes Hwy. 124 project
Dear Editor:
Last Thursday, I had the privilege to attend a zoning meeting in which I was deeply concerned about the Buckhead Project on Hwy. 124.
First of all, I would like to thank the board for rejecting the project. And, as a taxpayer of Jackson County, I hope that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will affirm this decision. Being a resident of this area, I firmly believe that this project would create a burden on our children and grandchildren. This burden would require new schools, roads, fire protection, police protection and waste disposal and/or landfills, further raising taxes on all persons in Jackson County.
The decision that will be made by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will affect the quality of life of ourselves, our children and grandchildren.
One spokesman for the project said that Jackson County was not like a "third world" country and that the houses that will be built will be priced from $150,000 to $500,000. From this observation, one can conclude that Jackson County will only be for the rich and famous.
 
Sincerely,
Willie Clark

July 29, 1998
Column-Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
 
Growth myths
Last week's planning commission action to recommend denial of a major housing development in Jackson County was just the first salvo in what could be a major controversy for county leaders. Next month, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will likely make the final decision on the rezoning request, a decision that has ramifications for a lot of the county's future development.
But all of this is being done under a cloud. Neither the planning commission nor the BOC has a sterling record of making wise rezoning decisions. Mostly, the two groups put their finger in the wind before voting. Because of that, a court suit now hangs over the county for a rezoning denial in the South Jackson area.
As with any rezoning, the issue brings out a certain amount of baseless rhetoric. Supporters of rezonings paint a better picture than the reality, while opponents scream that the sky is falling. Neither is true, but in rezonings, truth is the first casualty.
Over time, however, these distortions become part of the local lexicon, creating myths that many accept as fact. The following are some of the myths that are getting a lot of currency in Jackson County right now.
Myth #1: Jackson County doesn't have enough infrastructure to handle growth.
This is partially true, but that's only half the story. The truth is, no county or city ever has all the infrastructure it needs for growth. While some infrastructure, such as water lines, may precede development, other types of infrastructure always follow growth. There's no way for taxpayers today to pay for all the infrastructure that will be necessary 20 years from now. It is the increasing tax base from growth that is necessary to pay for the additional infrastructure. No community can stay ahead of growth.
Myth #2: Jackson County leaders should do more to control growth.
Let's all make a deal and do away with the phrase "controlled growth." Governments do not and should not control growth. Growth is driven by the marketplace from supply and demand. Jackson County has a prime location and a large supply of undeveloped land. There's a growing demand for that land from people wanting to be in this location. Therefore, Jackson County will grow and there's nothing government can or should do about that. However, government can help ease the pain of this growth with sound zoning policies and strong, visionary political leadership to put those policies into place. But governments don't have unrestrained legal authority in this since the landowner has a right to develop the property to its best use, even if that use is not popular.
Myth #3: All this growth is bad for Jackson County.
Despite its obvious problems, growth is not evil. Growth brings increased opportunity, both in employment and housing. It wasn't too long ago that there were few housing choices in the county and there wasn't the diversity of employment which exists today. But that increased opportunity hasn't come without a price, such as additional traffic and more crowded schools.
Myth #4: Jackson County is on its way to becoming another Gwinnett County.
Not necessarily. For one thing, Jackson doesn't have the sewer infrastructure to support the overall level of density found in Gwinnett County. Jackson County is going to grow and will probably double its population in the coming 20 years, but that still won't put it close to the population of Gwinnett. We all fear the rampant sprawl that characterizes Gwinnett County, but such growth isan aberration, not the norm. We can learn from Gwinnett's mistakes.
Despite these myths, there's no doubt that growth raises some challenges for Jackson County. But the tendency by some to oppose every new project, regardless of the merits, is the wrong way to deal with those issues. Growth isn't a popularity contest, although some of our political leaders appear to treat it that way.
Jackson County's weakness isn't that it is growing, but rather that it has a poor government structure for dealing with that growth. Our county government needs to be professionalized with a hired county manager and a part-time board of commissioners. The zoning board should not be dominated by those in the development business where the potential for a conflict of interest exists. And the relationship between the county government and the various towns should be put on a better footing.
There're a lot of myths associated with the county's growth, but one thing isn't a myth: Growth is coming, and we'd better get the kind of leadership structure that can deal with its effects.

August 5, 1998
News Story, The Jackson Herald
 
Developer plans revisions to golf community design
Asks BOC to delay action on rezoning for 30 days
BY ANGELA GARY
The developer of a proposed golf community in West Jackson agreed this week to make "major revisions" to his controversial project, including lowering the housing density.
In light of his planned changes, Doug Elam, president of Buckhead International, asked the Jackson County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night for a 30-day extension before it takes action on his request to rezone property on Hwy. 124 for the Mulberry Plantation development. The rezoning request is for a Planned Unity Development (PUD) which covers a mix of residential, commercial and recreational in a planned community project.
But under PUD, some of the requirements found in traditional subdivision projects don't apply, allowing, for example, higher density housing.
But that, along with traffic and sewerage treatment concerns, has created a large contingent of opposition to the project. Both at the planning commission meeting last month and again at Tuesday night's BOC meeting, there was standing room only in the Jackson County State Court room as people voiced opposition to the project.
The BOC may act on Elam's request for a delay when it meets at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Aug. 12, at the Administrative Building in Jefferson. The BOC also has the option of approving or denying the rezoning request as originally submitted, or instructing Elam to go back to the planning commission first with his revisions before returning to the BOC.
 
TUESDAY NIGHT
At Tuesday's meeting, Elam said he is making revisions to plans for the project. It had included some 1,650 housing units, some done as "cluster" units. Elam didn't elaborate on the revisions, but said he would take out some of the "cluster" homes and address other concerns on the density of the project, waste water treatment, traffic and environmental issues.
During a discussion about the traffic concerns, Elam said he had talked with officials with the Georgia Department of Transportation to discuss the possibility of placing an interchange to I-85 at the Hwy. 60 overpass. But BOC chairman Jerry Waddell said the county had been unsuccessful in a prior effort to get other interchanges placed in the county. He added that federal officials, who handle such matters, don't place interchanges within two miles of each other in "rural areas."
While an interchange might solve some of the projects potential traffic woes, it would also likely open up the West Jackson Area to additional growth. Some voiced opposition to that as well, saying they wanted to maintain the "rural character" of the county.
Elam said his plans call for installing the infrastructure and building the first golf course during the first two years and to begin constructing homes during the third year. Since the proposed sewer treatment is tied into spray fields for the golf course, that would have to be in place prior to any housing development.
Five people spoke in opposition to the development, including Bobby Sailors who asked that Elam "go by the same standards as other builders in the county."
"I have a problem with us breaking our standards down from three-quarter-acre development to a quarter-acre development," he said. "...Hold him to the same standards as other builders in Jackson County. Don't splice and dice our property."
Rick Leonhart, a former candidate for state representative, said: "I think it's time we decide what the priorities are going to be in this county and who we are going to give preferences to...I think we should not cater to carpetbaggers who are based outside the county and don't have to suffer the consequences of what overdevelopment does."
In a Wednesday letter to the BOC, Elam said his firm met all the county zoning codes and would help with the construction of a new fire center to serve the community.

August 5, 1998
Letter, The Jackson Herald
 
Developer says project meets zoning requirements
(The following is a copy of a letter sent to Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday by developer Doug Elam outlining his news on the proposed Mulberry Plantation Project.)
The Jackson County Zoning Ordinance clearly provides for the "Planned Unit Development" zoning classification. The ordinance sets forth in great detail the requirements and criteria appropriate and necessary for the application to qualify. Clearly, the Mulberry Plantation meets all the requirements.
This application was submitted to all appropriate county and state agencies for comment. (School board, water authority, utilities, volunteer fire departments, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Georgia Department of Transportation, county road department and North Georgia Regional Planning Authority). Only the Jackson Trail Fire Station had any negative comments or concerns about the "cluster" housing units. We (the applicant) have responded by offering to drastically lower the number of this classification thereby reducing overall density.
This plan allows for over 35 percent of open land and green space (the PUD guideline calls for 25 percent open space). The plan calls for the latest engineered and EPD approved sewer disposal system. The county water system is currently pumping an average daily 498,000 GPD of water. They have a reserve capacity of 2.6 million GPD for the west Jackson area.
The Jackson County School Board has given strong approval to this project. Their expansion plan will benefit greatly from this project with better utilities, improved land use and recreation facilities. With separation of road way access at five widely separate points, the traffic can be handled easily. Normal development plans call for a build out of the project over 12-15 years. As the total area population grows, the state DOT is aware of future needs involving the area and Interstate 85.
Schedule-The golf courses would be constructed 1999-2000 along with basic roadways and water, sewer-surface drainage.
Club house construction-1999-2000.
Houses-Start year 2000, about 50-100.
Year 2001-50-100 per year depending on demand.
Other features:
A special area will be designated for parking of RV's and boats and trailers.
Pools, tennis, walking trails, all recreation will be owned and managed by owner's association.
Trash and garbage collection by contract with haulers as designated by county government.
Land will be donated for a fire department and meeting center with a $50,000 contribution by owners for building construction.
The buzz-words currently popular about land uses are urban sprawl and controlled growth.
Urban sprawl requires continual use of large lots (1-2 plus acres) all with septic tanks polluting the land and eventually an entire county. As is the current land use zoning plan.
Controlled growth is the attempt to stop this practice.
The planned unit development approach helps to solve both these problems, i.e. adequate facilities are combined to provide the ideal living conditions all within a limited area controlled by restrictive covenants.
This selective approach with higher density prevents land coverage with ever-expanding dwelling units situated on over-large lots requiring septic tanks therefore ground pollution.
Land use in heavily populated European countries has followed a pattern of largely open land for farms and forest with all housing concentrated within the confines of small towns and cities using high density.
Our "Planned Unit Development" zoning is a step in the right direction.
Let us hope that the citizens and government of Jackson County have the courage to allow this managed growth to occur and thus preserve more green space and open areas while providing quality homes for present and future populations.
 
Sincerely,
Doug Elam
Mulberry Plantation

August 5, 1998
Column-Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
 
Nix preserving 'rural character'
All this fuss about growth is giving me a headache. It's not that I have especially strong feelings either way about the issue of a controversial golf community planned in West Jackson. I don't play golf, having given it up 20 years ago when I realized my ability to hit a small ball into a small hole was nonexistent. Golf takes time. It's expensive. And, in the grand scheme of things, it's about as interesting as hanging wallpaper.
Those who love golf, however, soon become obsessive about the game. It has become so popular, in fact, that it transcends mere sports and has become a lifestyle. I don't really understand it, but the fact is that people want to live on a golf course. They like rubbing shoulders and shooting the breeze (or is that birdies?) with others who play the game.
Like gin and vodka at a cocktail party, golf is a social lubricant. The golf course has long been the scene of business wheeling and dealing. Now it's the focus around which communities, like the one proposed in West Jackson, are built.
But to hear some people talk about the project, you'd think it was a trash dump rather than a place for aging baby-boomers to settle during the prime years of their life.
While there are some legitimate issues that need to be discussed about the plans, many of the comments have quickly digressed into a repetition of clichés, words that play to the crowd, but that have little real substance.
At Tuesday night board of commissioner's meeting, one speaker labeled the project's developers as "carpetbaggers." It sounded good to the crowd, but the funny thing was, the speaker himself is a transplanted Midwestern Yankee who settled in our Southern county. Carpetbagging, it seems, exists in the eye of the beholder.
But of all the meaningless clichés to come from this and other recent rezoning debates, the phrase "preserve our rural character" gives me the biggest headache. If we really wanted to preserve our rural way of life, we'd adopt a "No Yankee" law that'd prevent anyone who wasn't born and bred south of the Mason-Dixon line from living here. Moreover, we'd not allow any former urban or suburban residents to live here, only those who have lived all their lives in sparsely populated Southern communities.
Of course, if we did all of that, half the people raising cain about the golf community would have to pack up and move. No one wants to preserve our rural character like those who have discovered it for the first time.
The heavy in this and other growth debates, of course, is Gwinnett County. Bad ole Gwinnett, that place of sin and shame, a suburban nightmare where small children wail and grown men quake in fear of suburban sprawl.
OK, so I'm a little over the top. But just for a moment, let's compare the "rural character" of Jackson County to the "suburban nightmare" of Gwinnett:
· Percent of Jackson County citizens over the age of 25 with less than a 9th grade education - 20.2%. Gwinnett County - 4.5%
· Percent of Jackson County citizens who have not completed high school - 45.5%. Gwinnett County - 13.3%
· Percent of people in Jackson County who are below the poverty line - 16%. Gwinnett County - 5.7%.
· Per capita income in Jackson County in 1994 - $16,846. Gwinnett County - $23,370.
· Median household income in Jackson County for 1993 - $28,108. Gwinnett County - $49,652.
· Percent of people living in mobile homes in Jackson County in 1990 - 32.1%. Gwinnett County - 3.6%.
· Percent of population receiving food stamps in Jackson County in 1996 - 9.3%. Gwinnett County - 2.5%.
· Teen pregnancy rate in Jackson County for 1991-1995 - 52.8. Gwinnett County - 28.9.
· Divorce rate in Jackson County in 1995 - 6.8. Gwinnett County - 5.6.
· Suicide rate in Jackson County 1986-1995 - 18.5. Gwinnett County - 10.4
Are these numbers the kind of "rural character" our citizens so desperately want to preserve?
Jackson County has a lot of nice land that is prime for development. That brings a certain set of problems that we as citizens have to face.
But in our desire to stop this growth and run away from the problem of suburban development, we're forgetting that we have our own home-grown problems which have nothing to do with growth.
So let's debate the growth issues, but without sounding so sanctimonious about the desire to preserve a way of life that, in reality, may not be quite as idyllic as we make it sound.

August 12, 1998
Letter-The Jackson Herald
 
Gives the definition of a 'Carpetbagger'
Dear Editor:
Mike Buffington's column on county growth points up a need for a clarification pertaining to the comments quoted from last week's board of commissioners meeting.
You and I, and virtually every resident of Jackson County, are either immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants; as an immigrant is "a person who comes to (the area) to take up permanent residence..." (Webster). In my case, I purchased land, cleared part of it by hand, chose the location for our house and drew the design to be used by our local builder. This gives me not just a financial, but an emotional investment, in Jackson County.
On the other hand, a "carpetbagger," as I used the term, is someone who comes to the area "...with no more belongings than could fit into a carpetbag (a small traveling bag), intending...to use their influence to get rich through economic concessions from the state, fraud, and corruption..." (Grolier Encyclopedia). This is why I question the motivations of outside developers. When they finish, they will pack their "carpetbags," take their profits and leave, and we who live here will be left with the results of their work.
These developers even had the audacity to brag about hiring the former head of Gwinnett County's sewage plant, thinking we were ignorant of when "Old Faithful" blew up there, spewing raw sewage over acres of surrounding land in a residential area. It is concerns like this that caused the failure of the recent SPLOST referendum, which would have increased the availability of water for development. Thus, I wanted to go on record to our county commission that, before rendering a decision, they should consider, above all, the impact it will have on those who live here, who pay taxes here, and who elected them to office.
In your editorial, you cited all of the negative statistics related to Jackson Couty, which would probably apply to most other rural counties anywhere in this country. While these are legitimate concerns, you are perceiving the "glass" as half empty. I prefer to see it as half full. There are many positives about our county, such as the beauty of its woods and fields, and beauty of its many good neighbors, friends, Christians, and patriots. This is the "quality of life" we want to preserve, along with other "outdated" values such as the family and moral standards which are ridiculed by the media and liberal politicians today.
Yes, growth may be inevitable, but it should be planned and controlled, not by outside developers, but by those who care about more than profit.
 
Sincerely,
Rick Leonhart
 
(Buffington responds: Mr. Leonhart makes some good points, but he also makes the false assumption that those of us living in Jackson County today possess a superior judgment to those who may want to live here in the future. While we have the right, through the adoption of reasonable zoning codes, to influence how future developments should take place, we should not be so arrogant in assuming we have all the answers. Jackson County is a great place to live and work, but we do have some serious problems. Gwinnett County has a lot of traffic and suburban sprawl with visual pollution, but it does have some good things, as evidenced by the numbers mentioned in that column. So I'm bothered by the current tone of moral superiority taken by Mr. Leonhart and others. He suggests, for example, that by opposing the Mulberry Plantation project, he is protecting patriotism, Christianity and "family and moral standards." What has any of that got to do with the proposed golf community? Let's stick to the issues in this debate. It's complicated enough without politicians injecting their personal agendas into the process.)

August 12, 1998
Letter-The Jackson Herald
 
Says growth issues need leadership
Dear Editor:
In his "Growth Myths" editorial (July 29), Mike Buffington made several telling points about Jackson County's need for enlightened and creative leadership to cope with the growth that is heading our way. I thank him for his insights into the problem.
But I strongly disagree with his contention in "Myth Number Two" that growth cannot and should not be controlled by government; that market forces alone will determine how land is used. If we truly believed this, why would we bother investing time, money and energy in planning and zoning? More importantly, Jackson County now has a rural beauty and slower lifestyle that would be destroyed if developments with the density and impact of Mulberry Plantation are allowed to be plunked down just anywhere.
In his second editorial (Aug. 5), Mr. Buffington's recounting of statistics gives us a timely reminder of the flip side of the rural lifestyle coin. We do well to keep in mind that not everyone in Jackson County enjoys an equally high quality of life; this needs to be changed. However, statistics are slippery beasts and can easily be misleading. For one thing, quality of life is made up of many intangibles that are not statistically quantifiable; and for another, neither a lower per capita income nor using a trailer as your dwelling necessarily make for a lower quality of life.
While we might not be able to solve all of our problems at once, this Mulberry Plantation development has focused attention on serious defects in our planning vision. I believe we urgently need to do something. One possibility is to create an authority with the power to rule on incompatible land use in the county (along the lines of what they did in the Adirondacks in the last century and still do today). It would not be a merely advisory body like the planning commission we have now. Another possibility is to pass a SPLOST resolution and use the extra sales tax revenue to buy up the development rights of threatened property, but leave the land in the owners' hands.
I'm not suggesting that these are the answers for Jackson County, but I am saying that if we have the will and interest we can come up with our own way to control runaway growth. It is important that we have a clear vision for the future, and what we would like the county to become. What we already have is beyond price. Let's all work together to improve what needs to be improved and save what needs to be saved. Let's involve both new and longtime residents without resorting to the politics of division and polarization.
 
Sincerely,
Boniface McDaniel
Jefferson

August 12, 1998
Letter-The Jackson Herald
 
Disagrees with column
Dear Editor:
I thought Mike Buffington's column on "rural character" stunk.
First of all, as far as the comment on adopting a "No Yankee Law," "rural" has nothing to do with being Southern or being a Yankee. There are plenty of rural areas all over the United States, as there are plenty of urban communities in the South. The transplanted Midwestern Yankee who settled here certainly represented the general opinion of Jackson County much more than any Southern urbanite.
As far as the statistics, they are very sad. However, to imply bringing in a "planned urban community" is the way to solve the problems of Jackson County is ridiculous. Obviously, the new urbanites may improve our scary statistics of high school dropouts, poverty, etc. However, the numbers are still there. The percentages change for the increased population. But if there are 60 teenage pregnancies, the number is still 60.
No one is opposed to the growth. While a lot of us would like to see the land left completely alone, we all know this is not feasible. Have you seen Deer Creek Farms in Jackson County? It is a beautiful development. It brought educated families with good income into our county. The development is beautiful and open. This development does preserve our rural character.
The argument here is density. No one has said, "don't come here." We are saying that if you do come here, please build something that is appropriate for our community. We don't want a greedy Gwinnett developer to landscape our county for us. We are not impressed with Hamilton Mill and this is not the direction we wish to go.
Growth is not all bad, but Buckhead International wants to splice our land into the smallest tracts possible to make the most money possible. He cares nothing about this county. The developer of Deer Creek Farms lives here and look at that beautiful development. He cares. Doug Elam does not.
You were way off track with your column.
 
Sincerely,
Susan A. Bolton
Hoschton

August 12, 1998
Letter-The Jackson Herald
 
County should take a look at other developments
Dear Editor:
I read with interest and appreciation your column of 8/5/98 regarding the opposition to the proposed golf community in West Jackson County. I do not live in Jackson County, but I work there and am interested and concerned with the development of the county.
I find the controversy surrounding the proposal of Mulberry Plantation interesting in light of a recent visit I made to look at lots at Savannah Lake Resorts in McCormick County, South Carolina. The resort is a well planned, beautifully maintained development which will consist of around 1,600 homes when completed. It is eight years old now. Savannah Lakes is aimed more at retirees and is on a lake, but there are similarities between it and the proposed community for West Jackson.
What I found most interesting is the change in McCormick County. Until five years ago, I sold educational materials all over the Southeast. McCormick County Schools was one of those places educational sales persons spent little time because they had no money to spend. I drove through there regularly, but I rarely stopped. Half the storefronts on the main street were boarded up. It was a poor county with little business, a low SES level and few prospects.
McCormick County is now prosperous. There are quaint antique shops, restaurants, new schools, a new school administration building, refurbished historical buildings, an active arts council and new county services buildings. The tax base has increased dramatically. There is also a thriving lumber business because the trees being cleared from the land being developed are plentiful. Many service-oriented businesses have developed to provide for the needs of people living at Savannah Lakes.
I don't know all the particulars as I spent only three days there and I was there to relax. I do know some parallels to the Jackson County situation exist. It would behoove the powers that be to at least talk to county officials in McCormick, South Carolina, to get their take on the problems and progress resulting from such a large-scale development in their area. There are benefits to be gained from developments this large and comprehensive for all the people in the county if they are planned well and implemented carefully.
 
Sincerely,
Gale A. Sevener

August 12, 1998
Column-Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
 
A lack of 'vision' underlies issues
My wife doesn't much like my driving. She believes I get too distracted by sunsets and sunbathers (the female kind), to the detriment of my automotive skills. "You never anticipate and look ahead," she complains as I lock down the car to prevent a rear-end crash with the truck in front of me.
Perhaps she's right. But the same type comment could be made in the local sphere of politics. Although much of the criticism over a proposed golf community in West Jackson stems from empty rhetoric, there's a thread running through the comments that is basically correct; to wit, community leaders lack a "vision" of Jackson County for the future. Our leadership is often too distracted to anticipate what lies ahead, especially in the area of zoning and growth concerns.
In the past, that didn't matter too much. Slow growth puts few demands on leadership skills. In truth, Jackson County hasn't had much experience with having to anticipate the future because it was just another version of the present. That, obviously, has changed.
One speaker at last week's board of commissioner's meeting, Barbara Johnson, touched directly on this topic when she said the questions surrounding the golf community couldn't be addressed until "Jackson County articulates a long-rang, detailed, defining vision of its future character, atmosphere and purpose." She continued the thought by saying the county's leadership should bring together a diverse group of citizens to "build a consensus on Jackson County's future focus and direction."
Johnson said that this vision for the county could "act as a lens through which we can evaluate all future development proposals and which will also be a guide for encouraging and rewarding sensitive growth." Finally, she said the unified vision could become the base on which infrastructure and zoning codes could be built to ensure the type of outcome citizens want.
While I would quibble with Johnson on her optimism for a united consensus, her underlying theme is correct. Local leaders, both those holding elected positions and those in the unelected spheres of business and civic leadership, should focus more on anticipating and planning for future development. Part of the problem with the proposed golf community is that it put forth a concept that heretofore had never been considered by county officials. No one really ever anticipated that a planned community would be proposed for a rural area of Jackson County.
What's discouraging about all of this is that the planning infrastructure exists to do this, but has so far been a dismal failure. We have a county planning commission, but it gives little feedback in smoothing out the rough edges of zoning. Mostly, it just votes up or down on a zoning request. But that's just one of its duties. It should also function as a sounding board for both developers and county leaders. It should recognize trends in local growth and attempt to correct the problems before they become widespread. It should, in essence, be that diverse group Ms. Johnson alluded to in her comments to bring about some level of consensus on growth issues.
But the planning commission is just part of the problem. The county's board of commissioners has historically neglected its own planning and development department. It has been chronically underfunded, especially given the rising pressure it's under. For example, the preliminary budget for 1999 has the county planning office at $279,000. But through building permits alone, it is anticipated to bring in $270,000 next year. So in essence, we as a county would just be putting in around $9,000 in tax funds to support planning efforts.
I've long believed that one can judge the real priorities of a government by following the dollars it spends. While politicians have long talked about planning for the future in Jackson County, they have in the past neglected to put funding behind their rhetoric.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the proposed golf community, it has served as a focal point to get us all thinking and talking about growth issues. And while we may never be able to anticipate all the issues that will confront us in the future, we should attempt to have a little vision beyond the immediate issues before us.
Perhaps I should have my wife give them her little pep talk about that. She does, after all, have experience coaching a distracted driver.

August 19, 1998
Letter-The Jackson Herald
 
Says more planning vision needed
Dear Editor:
It was with great interest and pleasure that I read Mike Buffington's column, "A lack of 'vision' underlies issues" (Aug. 12). I felt greatly honored and heartened to have my ideas received so favorably and featured so prominently.
Mr. Buffington has an exciting idea for a revitalized and diverse planning commission with a broader mandate. While this body could serve to respond to some of those unanticipated "issues that will confront us in the future" and could be the ideal organization to implement a visionary master plan, I don't see this as being the best way of actually formulating one. If only a handful of people are involved in creating this vision, then I would agree completely with Mr. Buffington's statement that he "would quibble with Johnson on her optimism for a united consensus." What I actually had in mind, however, was more of a countywide, grassroots approach involving Jackson Countians from all walks of life and representing all viewpoints. Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I have great faith in the power of ordinary people to find wise and creative solutions to complex problems - especially when they have a big stake in the outcome. Admittedly, with such a large and diverse group, consensus will not be achieved without great effort - but, then, few worthwhile things are!
My only other "quibble" with an otherwise excellent editorial is with Mr. Buffington's assertion that "much of the criticism over the proposed golf community in West Jackson stems from empty rhetoric." I would dispute that assessment: the folks who have spoken out have a number of very real concerns about how this development will impact their day-to-day lives and the surrounding community.
I strongly agree with Mr. Buffington that one hindrance to long-range planning is that the county planning and development department is underfunded and understaffed, and that one underlying cause for planning myopia is that (as Mr. Buffington puts it so well) "Jackson County hasn't had much experience with having to anticipate the future because it was just another version of the present."
This was a thoughtful and positive editorial and I hope that Mr. Buffington will continue to use his resources and "bully pulpit" to call for "a little vision" in planning Jackson County's future. And, by all means, he should have his wife give her pep talk, too!
 
Sincerely,
Barbara Johnson
Jefferson

September 2, 1998
News Story - The Jackson Herald
 
100 homes cut from WJ project
No action expected on rezoning until October
BY ANGELA GARY
A developer planning a large golf community in West Jackson told the Jackson County Board of Commissioners that he's taken out all of the cluster homes in his proposed project, lowering the overall density by 100 homes. But Doug Elam still won't know until October whether a rezoning request for Mulberry Plantations will be approved.
The rezoning would usually be acted on at the BOC's regular meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, but commissioner Henry Robinson said he plans to make a motion that the action be delayed until October. Commissioner Pat Bell will miss next week's meeting and Robinson said he wants all three commissioners present when a vote is taken on the matter.
Elam's plan now calls for locating 1,550 homes, two golf courses and other recreation facilities on 1,124 acres. The developer said the overall density would be 1.3 homes per acre. He added that 400 acres would have no homes and would be devoted to recreation facilities.
"The overall density is no more than anywhere you find homes with sewer," he said. "...We feel this is a major change in addressing the classification that was most opposed to."
Several people again spoke in opposition to the project, with one man speaking in favor of it. Concerns of those in opposition to the plans include density, potential traffic problems, the environmental impact and other issues associated with growth.
Jack Little, Jefferson, was the only county resident to speak in favor of the development.
"When you start building houses, you will start getting tax revenue," he said. "...I'd like to see this move on. Good growth is what we need."
 
ETHICS COMPLAINT
Elam's request for a rezoning first went before the BOC in August, but no action was taken after a West Jackson resident alleged that developer Dorsey Guthrie, who had given Robinson campaign contributions, was involved in a "joint venture" with the golf community developers.
But at this week's meeting, county attorney Lane Fitzpatrick said he had looked into the matter and found the statements made by Jerri Smith to be "absolutely misleading and totally false."
"There is no tie between Mr. Robinson, Mr. Guthrie and the Mulberry rezoning," Fitzpatrick said.
The attorney said he had also found that Mrs. Smith had filed 25 lawsuits in the past 18 years, with 19 of those being against public agencies or officials. But Mrs. Smith said later that these figures are not correct.
Fitzpatrick said that a judge had ruled that she can no longer file lawsuits on her own behalf unless she pays the $5,000 court-sanctioned attorney's fees that she owes. A judge must also approve any new suit and find it is not "frivolous." Mrs. Smith has filed a complaint on this to contest these orders.

The Jackson Herald-September 30, 1998
Letter to the Editor
Mulberry hearing coming up
Dear Editor:
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will hold the last public hearing on rezoning for Mulberry Plantation. Saturday's story in the Atlanta Constitution ("Developers Get Way in Cherokee") shows how important the county commissioners can be in the rezoning process. They have the power to ignore a county land use plan and the recommendations of the planning commision. Since the only ones they are answerable to are the voters, it seems to me that it is vitally important for the voters to turn out in force to let the commissioners know how they feel about this precedent-setting zoning request.
This huge development is going to be plunked down willy-nilly in a rural and agricultural area. The current roads in this area are not adequate, and no new ones are planned. There is no easy way to get to I-85 without jamming the already-congested Braselton exit, and a new exit will just bring in more development. Fire protection is still questionable even with slightly reduced density, and the area schools are already overcrowded. Another serious issue is all the adjacent commercial strip development that Mulberry Plantation will attract.
Water will be available to the home owners in the new development (since the water tower is right there on their property!). But what about the long-time residents who live farther away from the water tank and who have been paying taxes and patiently waiting for water all this time? Will they see any of the water? And if they do, will they get more than a drop at peak use time? And what about the farmers and rural landowners in this part of the county who will be driven out by rising property taxes?
Approval of this development will set a precedent that's going to affect everyone in the county. Outside developers are practically lined up at the county borders waiting with bated breath to see how this turns out, hoping to be next if this development gets rezoned "PUD."
Even though I enjoy playing golf, I feel that this is not the time or place for such a humongous development. There are just too many questions remaining about Mulberry Plantation. If you feel the same way, please contact your commissioners and let them know. And be sure to come to the meeting.
 
Sincerely,
Boniface McDaniel
Jefferson

October 7, 1998
News Story - The Jackson Herald
Stage set for big rezoning vote
After months of controversy, final action is expected next week on a rezoning request for a large residential golf community in West Jackson.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on a request from Buckhead International for the Mulberry Plantation development when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Administrative Building in Jefferson.
Wednesday, two commissioners said they are attempting to weigh the concerns of those opposed to the project with the rights of the developer. The board held a final hearing Tuesday night.
"I am probably convinced that if he takes us to court, he will win," said Henry Robinson.
Commissioner Pat Bell echoed similar concerns.
"I think one of the most significant things (Tuesday night) was when the developer stood up and spoke of his constitutional rights," she said. "When a developer declares his constitutional rights, you're on your way to court."
In responding to a question from BOC chairman Jerry Waddell, developer Doug Elam said if the rezoning is denied, the company would indeed file a lawsuit.
Robinson also expressed doubts about what might happen if the project were rejected.
"What's to keep him from selling the thing and five or six people buying it and putting in 100 houses each and putting in septic tanks?" he said. "You still get the same thing, but you don't have the open space."
But some still don't like the plans.
"I think that this is our county and a lot of people don't want this," said Wanda Hogan Jennings Tuesday. "This county is already growing out of control. We need to think about the future and the people who have lived here all of their lives."

The Jackson Herald-October 14, 1998
Letter to the Editor
 
Calls for more planning vision in Jackson County
Dear Editor:
Thanks for your informative report in last week's paper about the planning and zoning process in Jackson County. This is definitely a pull out and keep section!
However, I was saddened to see The Jackson Herald give an unqualified endorsement to Mulberry Plantation. Approving Mulberry Plantation as it now stands would essentially abdicate planning to the developers. If the county continues in this fashion, it will end up being relegated to the role of mere service provider to development interests. Meanwhile, no protection is given to the farmers and other rural residents who were here first.
It doesn't have to be that way, and I wish the paper would lead the way in calling for more planning vision and in calling for developers, planners, county officials and citizens to all come to the table and brainstorm creative, positive solutions.
The 4,000 mobile homes in the past eight years that the editorial cites represent a growth trend that is indeed cause for concern. But, since these mobile homes would only have averaged out to about 42 per month (and scattered throughout the county at that), it's unfair to fault those opposed to Mulberry Plantation for not having noticed. And, while these figures do point to the need for increased awareness and vigilance on the part of our citizens, the issue of strain on services (and impact on the environment) involves a number of variables and is not quite as clear-cut as the editorial indicates.
Looking to the future, what about the bypass that will be built around Jefferson? It will open up new land to development pressure. I just mention this hoping that The Jackson Herald will call for the commissioners to do some proactive planning that will allow this area, as well as the rest of the county, to grow responsibly and sensitively instead of just caving in to the developers.
 
Sincerely,
Boniface McDaniel
Jefferson

The Jackson Herald-October 14, 1998
Column-Mike Buffington, Editor
 
A public temper-tantrum
Has my 3-year-old been giving temper-tantrum lessons to opponents of the Mulberry Plantation project?
Seems someone has, given the child-like outbursts during Tuesday night's board of commissioners meeting. As a story on the Herald Front details, the meeting even had to be stopped while the police were called.
And these are the people who, in all their self-professed wisdom, have demanded that the golf community project be stopped lest it flood Jackson County with (horrors) new people? Perhaps that growth is needed to dilute the gene pool of those who throw public temper-tantrums.
At the heart of this outburst is a belief that just because we live here now we should be able to decide who our future neighbors should be. It is a belief that was echoed Tuesday night and has been stated in various ways during the Mulberry Plantation debate.
Last week, one person quoted in a story said: "I think that this is our county and a lot of people don't want this...We need to think about the future and the people who have lived here all of their lives."
A related comment was made in another story from Jackson County Planning Commission member Thomas Benton: "...a position a lot of us has taken is that the people who are already here ought to have some say-so. I think it may be a little bit prejudice that way, but I think people who have been in the county living all along deserve to have some recognition."
And this week, a letter to the editor has this comment about growth in the county: "Meanwhile, no protection is given to the farmers and other rural residents who were here first."
Obviously, the people now living in Jackson County have more say today in shaping growth issues. It is the current population, after all, which elects those who write our zoning codes and land use plans.
But it would be legally and morally wrong to say that just because we live here now we have an unlimited right to decide how other people develop their property in Jackson County. It would also be wrong to say that our views should bias the zoning process and tilt the legal playing field on which zoning decisions are supposed to be made.
We have zoning codes as an effort to regulate certain kinds of growth. That is done both for the protection of existing property owners and for those moving into the county - but it is not, as many assume, a tool given current residents to control every aspect of the county's growth.
To be effective, zoning codes must be both reasonable and evenly enforced. If the codes are unreasonable, they will not be upheld by the courts. There is no blanket right of a government to tell a landowner what he can or can't do with his property, only a limited right to regulate certain specific uses as they affect the surrounding area. Nor is zoning an act whereby a government gives 'permission' for a project; rather, it is a process to ensure some level of fairness to all the affected parties.
There's obviously a strong anti-growth element in Jackson County right now, much of it fueled by a fear of change. But that fear, whether real or imagined, should not drive the zoning process, a process that should be rooted in fairness and law, not emotion. Those who have lived in Jackson County for a long time deserve to have their say, but their voices should not be listened to by our zoning officials with a biased ear.
But try to tell that to the self-righteous fringe who caused the disruption Tuesday night. Even though they've had weeks to voice their opinion and state their case, they continued to act like spoiled brats. That's not to say that civil disobedience is always wrong - there are times when it is a necessary and justified means to right a greater wrong.
But this wasn't one of those times. The rezoning process for Mulberry Plantation was followed to exacting detail during the weeks leading up to Tuesday night's vote. All of those opposed to the project had at least three occasions to state their case in a public forum. And our government officials did not try to circumvent the rezoning process or to deny anyone a fair chance to be heard.
But that was not what these people wanted anyway. Despite their cry for more "vision" from county leaders and platitudes about better "planned growth," they really don't care about those things. Most of them have not been a part of the planning process in the past, nor will they likely be a part of it in the future.
No, what those at Tuesday night's meeting really wanted was their own way, the process or the legal issues be damned. And as sometimes happens when my 3-year-old doesn't get his own way, those adults threw a public temper-tantrum when they didn't get what they wanted.
The irony is, however, that the tantrum just confirmed the correctness of the BOC's decision to approve the rezoning.
When one side of a debate acts like a 3-year-old, you know they didn't have a valid argument in the first place.

October 14, 1998
News Story - The Jackson Herald
 
Golf development gets OK after rancorous meeting
Approval of a 1,550-home golf community in West Jackson was almost anti-climactic Tuesday night compared to the outbursts from the audience and the brief adjournment of the meeting while a police officer was called to the scene.
The Jackson County Board of Commis-sioners agreed in a 2-1 vote to a rezoning request from Doug Elam for 1,143 acres on Gum Springs Church Road and Hwy. 124 for Mulberry Plantation, a planned golf community. Commissioners Pat Bell and Henry Robinson voted in favor of the request while chairman Jerry Waddell voted against it.
But comments made by Robinson and Bell about the decision were met with loud objections, sarcastic laughter and snickers from some of the 50 people in the audience, several of whom also waved "Vote No" signs.
Just before the vote was taken, Roy Grubbs of Jefferson demanded the floor to speak. Waddell pointed out that comments from the public had been taken at earlier work session meetings, the last of which was held Thursday night. When Grubbs refused to stop talking and continued to interrupt the proceedings, Waddell adjourned the meeting and had warden Joe Dalton call the Jefferson Police Department.
For several minutes, Grubbs continued to speak while Waddell asked him 11 times to "Please be seated." He refused and tried to yell above the chairman. Grubbs left the meeting seconds before the police officer arrived.
"I would like to remind the commission that this is agricultural," Grubbs yelled. "He bought it agricultural and he has a right to develop it as agricultural...Ten years from now, this county will be strip-mined and he will be out of here and we're stuck with the impact of what he does."
Grubbs finally said: "I will be happy to leave at this time." and Waddell retorted, "You are rude." A police officer arrived and after clearing a contingent of loud bystanders from the foyer, stayed for the remainder of the meeting.
Also during this outburst, another member of the audience shouted that someone had been "paid off" and several people yelled "recall, recall."
Waddell called for a "roll call" vote in which each commissioner voiced their vote. When Waddell cast his "No" vote, several members of the audience also yelled "No!"
When making the motion for approval, Bell had director of planning and development David Clabo read a list of 13 conditions for the project (see separate story on page 2A).
"If a fence could be built around Jackson County, I would be the first to post it," Bell said. "I've gone back and forth weighing the pros and cons of this issue and trying my best to stay with the facts. But I keep coming back to common sense and that is - something is going to be built on this property in the next 10 to 12 years. I would much rather know what is going there than the many alternatives possible with septic tanks. I think we should shift our thinking to quality development that features open space."
She also spoke of the threat of a lawsuit if the rezoning was denied.
"Mr. Elam declared his constitutional rights at our meeting last week which means your tax money being used in the court system," she said. "Mr. Elam has followed all of the rules and regulations set up by our planning and development department....Many conditions and concessions have been established--especially the elimination of cluster housing."
Bell also pointed out that she, along with Clabo and Robinson, met with DOT commissioner Wayne Shackelford on the development. She said he promised a study to begin immediately concerning an exit from Hwy. 60 to I-85. Bell said Shackelford is also going to make every effort possible to get the interchange on DOT plans before the year 2000. She said the county has also been promised assistance from the DOT for improvements to State Route 124 and Gum Springs Road as needed.
Robinson said: "I too have thought long and hard about this and spent many sleepless nights on it. I can assure that my decision is based on what I think is best for Jackson County..."

-Development timeline
 
Developer Doug Elam plans to sell 75 homes in Mulberry Plantation during the first year of the project. With plans for his 1,550-home golf community approved Tuesday night, Elam released a timeline for the development:
· 6 to 9 months - Detail architectural planning for the golf facilities, clubhouse and other recreation amenities. Simultaneously, engineer for water, sewer and drainage and seek approval for lakes from the United States Corps of Engineers.
· 12 months - Begin construction of the above and engineering and planning for the first residential village.
· July 1999 - Begin first phase of the housing and street development. Estimate 75 houses sold the first year with 150 per year by the third year.
· 12 years - Total buildout of development with a population gain of 3,900 to 4,500.

January 13, 1999
News Story - The Jackson Herald
 
Buckhead still owner of Mulberry development
Despite published reports in an Atlanta publication, Buckhead International has not sold its Jackson County property where Mulberry Plantation will be located..
Developer Doug Elam said Tuesday that Buckhead has not sold the 1,250 acres to Bluegreen Golf, as was reported Friday in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Elam said Buckhead is talking with several golf developers to select one to work with on the project.
"We are in the process of talking to a number of golf developers and trying to decide who would be the best for us to collaborate with in doing that project," he said. "There has been no sale made or no deal made."
Elam added that Buckhead is only looking for a firm to assist with the golf development, not completely take over the project.
"We'll be very much involved," he said. "It is our intent to stay involved with the project."
He said that Buckhead officials have not decided which golf development firm to make a deal with.
"We are simply in the process of talking to a number of golf developers, both locally and nationally," he said. "We've not made any decision."
As for progress on the project, Elam said required studies of the site are being completed.
"We've got to do some wetland study," he said. "We're doing some work with the Corps of Engineers to determine what kind of waterways we can have."