Several recent editorials have discussed factors surrounding growth in Jackson County and I believe they made sense.
There is no denying that I-85 is a major driver and, further, that growth creates its own dynamics as it gathers speed. I hesitate to use the analogy of the rolling snowball, but it’s probably apt to some degree.
Governments don’t “control” growth and “management” is extremely difficult. Governments react to economic, political, and social pressures with varying degrees of expertise and resources.
Approve a giant mixed-use development and you’ve got to provide adequate infrastructure which then aids in attracting more development which requires yet more infrastructure, and down the road we go. Pretty soon — for better or for worse — we have Gwinnett County where politicians, planners, and engineers built wastewater treatment plants in the ‘70s that had 20 or 30-year design horizons. Some barely made it to 10.
I am certainly not pretending to have the answer to the question of “planned” or “managed” growth, but within the system that we have, I believe there is room for improvement if we pay more attention to some of the details and keep the greater good in mind.
- Don’t approve every zoning variance request that comes along. Consider the applicability to the overall comprehensive plan for the area. It is not everyone’s “right” to develop their property as they see fit. Be prepared to defend your decision even if it involves attorneys.
- Don’t abolish your local Planning and Zoning Commission for the sake of “expediency” or some other convenient term. These people serve voluntarily and cost nothing; provide another layer of perspective and expertise; and can increase public confidence in whatever decision is finally made. Another couple of days isn’t going to matter.
- If you have a paid professional planner, listen to her or him. Arbitrarily overriding professional advice such as housing density and building setbacks outside of a public forum and with no further explanation does no one any good except the developer.
- Avoid multiple re-zonings on the same property just to please a developer whenever possible. It does not pass the straight-face test and erodes the public's confidence in their local government.
- Avoid “contract" re-zonings that are made in anticipation of the availability of utilities such as sewerage facilities. These things smack of “deals” that are made outside of the public forum and, once again, erode public confidence in their local officials.
- Avoid conflicts of interest or even the appearance of same. If you’re going to establish a Downtown Development Authority or similar organization, don’t appoint local developers or real estate agents to it.
- If you don’t have a Tree Ordinance, get one. If you do have one, make sure it is followed to the extent practicable.
Providing for some degree of orderliness in Jackson County’s growth is going to be difficult enough. Let’s at least try to shoot straight when we make local decisions.