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Comp plan faces more questions at meeting
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Murray Marshall goes over one of the character area maps. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Some residents are asking Effingham County commissioners for more time before the county sends its comprehensive plan to the state for review.

County staff, Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center representatives and Denise Grabowski from Lott+Barber conducted a workshop on the county’s comp plan Thursday night to define a character area map.

County commissioners hope to have the comprehensive plan, a guide for what kinds of development should or should not go in which areas of the county, done by October.

“We’ve spent two hours tonight and have gone through a lot of material,” said Murray Marshall. “We need to have more time to have input into this process. We should be coming back here in a week or two. I hope the commissioners will back off the deadline and give us a little more time.”

The state Department of Community Affairs originally called for the comp plan to be done by 2006, but it changed its deadlines last year, giving the county until 2012 for a finished document.

A partial update of the previous comp plan has been submitted and OK’d by the DCA.

Questions also persisted on the comp plan and its impact on what a property owner can do with his land.

“You pass this comprehensive plan and you have established what the zoning is going to be,” said Mickey Kicklighter.

“This does have significant impact on a zoning question.”

Lott+Barber land planner Denise Grabowski said the comprehensive plan doesn’t call for specific zoning uses but is
rather a broad guide.

“This does not rezone anyone’s property,” she said. “It will be used for land use decisions, so officials will have a reference.”

Part of the discussions over character areas centered on what would be appropriate for the two ends of the county. The southern end has been heavily developed while the northern end remains largely rural and agricultural.

But even that distinction raised some issues.

“How will that affect the tax burden?” asked Ricky Kicklighter. “Will that create an unfair advantage for one side over the other?”

Grabowski said the plan isn’t designed to favor one area over another for lower taxes.

“What we’re looking for in a comprehensive plan is a policy document to guide development,” she said.

Residents also called for the possibility of industrial uses in the northern end and for the protection of the Meldrim area as the proposed industrial park near it comes together.

The future development maps are based on character areas developed during the community assessment. The future development maps do not call for specific uses of particular parcels of land nor dictate a specific type of development for a piece of land. It does, though, reference character areas and provide guidance for each area.

“What it is intended to do is to maintain that area character,” Grabowski said. “A subdivision in the northern end might have a little different character than a subdivision in the southern end.

“Because of the bedroom community Effingham County has become, the southern half has become more attractive for development,” Grabowski said.

The community assessment indicated a strong desire to maintain the county’s history of rural and agriculture areas.

Grabowski also said that the comp plan can be written in such a way that someone who has a farm in the southern end and wants to keep it that way can be encouraged to do so.

Marshall also cautioned that wetlands on the maps may be more extensive than shown and that could lead to problems.

“We need to be careful where we put high density and low density,” he said. “There’s a lot of the lower end of the county you’re never going to develop because the federal government isn’t going to let you.”

The comp plan also is designed to guide where commercial development is best suited to go.

Grabowski said development scattered over a large area actually can hurt the chances for luring more commercial investment. It also can lead to larger bills for county government.

“When development happens over a large, widespread area and growth happens without any look at how services will be provided, there can be long-term consequences that are difficult to fix later,” she said. “It can be more expensive to provide for public safety and recreation. And they spend millions trying to go back and fix it and they don’t maintain that unique sense of character.”

The community assessment was one of the first steps in the comp plan and looks at where the community is now, Grabowski said.

“The comprehensive plan is designed to be a living document,” she said. “The community agenda is the heart of the comprehensive plan. It’s a guide of where you want to be.”

But because the county was growing so rapidly and the comprehensive plan was so out of date, the county decided to go ahead with finishing the comprehensive plan, Grabowski said.

A comp plan can be updated at any time after it is submitted and changed. The DCA calls for major updates to be done every 10 years and minor updates every five years to coincide with the short term work programs.

“This isn’t written in stone,” Frank Arden said. “It is broad and strategic.”

Another meeting in August is on the to-do list for the county.

“We want as many opinions as we can get,” Shaw said. “The comprehensive plan should be the vision of Effingham County.”

Where to find the partial update:

www.dca.state.ga.us/development/PlanningQualityGrowth/programs/downloads/plans/EffinghamPartialUpdateSTWP.pdf

Also at www.effinghamcounty.org.and click on the comprehensive plan link.