Most of the growth in Jackson County in recent years has been on the west side of the county. You can see that in the county school system's student numbers which reflects massive growth to the west and stagnation to the east.

But that's about to change.

The SK Battery plant looks to be the nexus around which the Commerce and East Jackson area will begin to grow. Already, Commerce has a proposal for its first large-scale subdivision, a controversy that has city leaders scratching their heads over how to proceed.

But that growth will also spill over into neighboring areas. That's especially the case in neighboring Banks County. 

Traditionally rural, the county is starting to see industrial growth and pressure for more residential development. Most of that is focused on the county's southern border with Commerce, along I-85 in the Banks Crossing area.

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The result of this impending growth has created a rising level of frustration among some in Banks County, as evidenced during a lengthy public exchange on April 27 between several citizens and the county's board of commissioners. A handful of citizens roundly criticized the county government, especially the county's economic development authority and its economic development director.

Those citizens said they don't want to see large, dense subdivisions in Banks County, nor do they want industrial growth to encroach on the county's rural character.

No argument with that.

But the citizens also demanded that the county do more to keep them informed about potential growth projects.

That's something that we've seen in Jackson County as well. Increasingly, citizens want to be spoon-fed news.

For the most part, both Jackson and Banks counties do a pretty good job of advertising proposed development projects and our newspapers cover those meetings.

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It's not clear exactly what sparked the degree of pushback by the Banks County citizens, but among their complaints was a recent radio interview the county's economic development director gave to an Atlanta web radio program in which he discussed development potential in the area.

Most of that discussion was typical of how economic developer folks talk, hyping their communities as a great place to do business and to live.

That is their' job. They're supposed to promote their communities to potential businesses. They're supposed to shoe-shine the county's reputation and attempt to bring in new investments.

The thing that seems to have caught some Banks County citizens off-guard was the promotion of an upcoming virtual meeting between several area counties, including Banks and Jackson, and businesses from Ontario, Canada, a conference that will focus mainly on automotive businesses.

Banks and Jackson counties are part of a lose consortium of communities along I-85 from Gwinnett County to the South Carolina line that call themselves the "Georgia High Tech I-85 Corridor." That group is doing a virtual meeting with some Canadian firms as a networking venture for possible future investments in the area.

Banks' economic development director is originally from Ontario, so perhaps he had contacts that facilitated the organizing of this virtual meeting. 

In any event, several Banks citizens seemed puzzled about the meeting. One wanted to know why the county was promoting the county to foreign countries and wanted the county to abolish the county's economic development authority, or create an authority that would promote rural policies. 

I suspect there are some in Jackson County who feel the same way, although promoting economic development in Jackson isn't nearly that controversial.

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Banks County leaders have said for many years they want to keep the county's business development along I-85 and not have it encroach into the heart of the county's rural communities.

Most citizens would agree with that. Most don't want to see large industrial, commercial or residential projects outside of the I-85 area. 

But like all counties, Banks does need to see industrial and commercial growth. Without a balance of industrial, commercial and residential in the county's tax digest, local residents and farmers will have to carry the burden of paying local property taxes.

Over time, that taxation burden will grow. That's especially true with school taxes, which are the major share of local property taxes. The state has been shifting more of the cost of education from its pocketbook to local counties. 

So it's important for the county to have some industrial and commercial development to help carry the load of property taxes.

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But the bigger problem for Banks and the Commerce area probably won't be industrial growth; it will be residential development.

Neither Banks County nor Commerce have very many large subdivisions, at least the kind of traditional suburban subdivision of small lots and high density housing.

Now, however, the area is going to begin seeing a lot of developers wanting to buy up raw land and develop high-density subdivisions in the area. The SK project and other nearby industrial growth is going to lead to a demand for more local housing.

A May report from the Norton Agency  shows that Banks County has virtually zero housing available for sale under $450,000. Jackson County is also experiencing a tight housing market.

There's no supply, but there is demand. The result will be pressure to build more houses and more subdivisions.

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Both Banks County and Commerce are currently updating their zoning codes to get ready for that, but there's only so much local governments can do to control residential projects. It cannot create onerous zoning codes; if it does, a battery of lawyers will sue the county and likely win in court. 

Nor can a county government control what happens inside the county's municipalities. If Homer, or Maysville or Baldwin want to annex land and approve high-density subdivisions in Banks County, there's not much legally the county can do to stop that. Likewise, if Jackson County approves large subdivisions near Commerce, there not much the city can do to stop it.

To an extent, access to sewerage will determine where high-density housing can be built. 

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Banks County and Commerce are going to face growth challenges in the coming years like they have never had to deal with before. There will be a lot of NIMBYs along the way, people who don't care about growth unless it's in their back yard; then, they show up at commission meetings raising hell. 

Otherwise, many people don't seem to care about the big picture, what's legal, how the rules work or the kind of financial balance the county needs to maintain to fund local public services.

It ain't as simple as many in the public want to believe it is.

Banks leaders should attempt to keep industrial development along the I-85 corridor and Commerce should be cautious about the kind of subdivisions it allows.

But citizens who practice NIMBY politics really have a weak voice.

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There will be many growth challenges Banks County and Commerce and they won't be perfect. Leaders will make some mistakes. They will have to adopt some new regulations that they may not really want to do.

And as growth creeps up I-85, it will invade some areas that have remained rural. Planning for that with appropriate buffers and transition zones will be important, but fraught with debate and challenges.

But the most important part of the area's growth will be the public.

Citizens should make an effort to stay informed about what's going on in their community. It's not the county or city's job to spoon-fed people information they can easily get on their own. Citizens should not expect personal phone calls from public officials about everything that's going on.

Good citizens make an effort to know what's going on in their communities by reading local newspapers and becoming involved in local public hearings about proposed zoning developments. They attend meetings, even when there's nothing on the agenda that will affect them directly. And they make an effort to learn how zoning and land use works, what it can and cannot do.

I've sat in a lot of meetings over the years where angry citizens blast government officials by saying they didn't know about a particular project. When officials tell them it was published in the newspaper, they often say, "I don't read the paper."

I have a message for those people: It shows.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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