There's always a lot of talk about planning and controlling growth.
What does that mean, exactly? Can governments really control growth, or plan for all the unforeseen events that can happen?
Maybe not, but governments do have some basic ideas about growth in their communities. Most have comprehensive plans that are updated every few years. While those plans aren't set in stone, they do give some general guidance about how a community is developed as it transitions from one use to another.
In 2019, Banks County went a step further and had a separate study done for an "economic development blueprint" for the county.
Sponsored by the board of commissioners and the Development Authority of Banks County, the document has no legal framework or enforcement. But it does give some insight as to how and where the county could grow in the coming years. In addition, it makes recommendations for local public officials as to what infrastructure is needed to accommodate development in the county.
The blueprint is 193 pages long and has a lot of esoteric detail and in some places, lofty wording that consultants felt imperative to write despite the vagueness.
Still, the report has some data and recommendations that merit further community discussion.
Among the documents recommendations is that development in the county should revolve around four main geographic areas: The Banks Crossing interchange; the Martin Bridge Road interchange; Hwy. 441 around Homer; and Hwy. 52 around Maysville.
The report suggests that most industrial growth be located at the two interchanges, with some additional warehouses around the Maysville area along Hwy. 52 to "capitalize on the new Inland Port and rail access."
For the Homer area, the report suggest an "emphasis on commercial, retail and housing developments."
Among the recommendations in the report are two that could be critical to Banks County's future.
The documents suggests that an east-west connecting road be created from Homer eastward using Webbs Creek and Wilson Bridge roads to Hwy. 63, just above Martin Bridge interchange. Presumably, this would mean a widening of those roads to accommodate heavier traffic volumes. The goal of that project would to connect the Homer area to the Martin Bridge Rd. area.
The report also suggests that Hwy. 59 be improved since it parallels I-85. That area is already growing with both industrial and residential development and could explode with growth in the coming years given its proximity to Commerce and I-85.
In addition to roads, the report also suggests that the county expand water and sewerage infrastructure, especially in the four designated growth areas.
And the blueprint calls for the county to create incentives for "attracting and retaining investment in the community" and to increase county staffing of the development authority to implement the details of the plan.
Housing also gets a lot of attention in the report.
One aspect of its recommendation is bound to be controversial: The report suggests that the county should "encourage denser housing development to minimize impact on infrastructure and community."
That seems to go against recent public sentiment that called for low-density housing in the county. The report suggests that housing in the Martin Bridge and Homer areas increase density to 1/4-acre lots with public infrastructure.
For the most part, the northern part of Banks County isn't discussed in the report with most of the development focus on the southern part of the county.
To a large extent, that 2019 report mirrors what has already been happening in Banks County. Growth has mostly been in along I-85 and adjacent areas and in the Homer area.
Undoubtedly, the Hwy. 59 corridor from Banks Crossing to Martin Bridge is going to explode with growth, both residential and industrial. And the Homer area is also going to grow with residential projects.
I'm not so sure about the Maysville area. While the new Inland Port in Hall County could impact that area with some warehouses, the more likely impact of the inland port will be in Jackson County around Pendergrass and Jefferson. Maysville seems to be more primed for residential development than industrial.
Still, that report gives some insight into how planning professional, the consultants who did the report, look at Banks County and how they believe it should grow. The report talks a lot about "balance" in its 198 pages, balancing the desire for the county to maintain its rural history in the face of growth.
Finding that balance will be difficult. Growth creates its own dynamics and no matter how much local governments try, they can't always control what happens.