The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners denied the approval of the Economic Development Zone overlay for a second time at a BOCC land-use hearing held Nov. 14, amid concerns expressed by …
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The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners denied the approval of the Economic Development Zone overlay for a second time at a BOCC land-use hearing held Nov. 14, amid concerns expressed by citizens and BOCC members about the right to special use process proposed in the overlay. A half-dozen citizens addressed commissioners, half for and half against the EDZ.
The EDZ overlay was initially presented in March of this year, but commissioners declined to approve it Aug. 8, sending it back to the Community Development Services office for amendments. While CDS staff recommended approval of the amended proposal at the Nov. 14 meeting, commissioners agreed they were still not comfortable with the amended plan, and will reconsider a revised edition at the Dec. 5 BOCC land-use hearing, held at 1 p.m.
The EDZ overlay would allow zoning changes to land along specific corridors within the county, including areas along highway 86 and US 24. Land within a half-mile of the centerline of the EDZ corridors would be rezoned to commercial, residential or industrial, instead of agricultural. Hotels, multi-family housing or self-storage facilities are just a few of the more than 40 uses allowed by right that could be built.
Landowners would not have to have their land rezoned, but would still have to submit site plans for approval. The proposed EDZ would require only administrative approval, eliminating public hearings and shortening the process.
The lack of public hearings was at the heart of the BOCC discussion, as citizens spoke against the EDZ, claiming it would pave the way for uncontrolled growth in the county.
Sam Albrecht, Elbert county manager, addressed the room full of concerned citizens before public comments began.
“The EDZ is nothing new. It has been discussed in town halls, with the BOCC, open houses and planning commission meetings. It's been in the works for over a year now,” said Albrecht. “Citizen concerns have been both pros and cons, and we have not received large amounts of concerns. Commercial businesses have been frustrated by the old process that took time and money. It makes sense to have commercial business along the roadway corridors. Good local jobs are a good thing. Good shopping and services locally are a good thing.”
Carla Hagood, with the Elbert County Citizens Growth Advocacy Group, GAG, asked commissioners to slow down and consider the implications of the EDZ.
“I saw a number of questions posed here, but didn't see any answers here,” said Hagood. “There are some big changes here that we need to be sensitive to. It's in everyone's best interest that Elbert County be successful in their economic efforts. But since you don't really know the unintended consequences and lessons we will get from this, let's incorporate it slowly, and review it every six months.”
Resident Roy Leak said he preferred the first draft of the EDZ that was proposed, and hoped commissioners would settle the matter soon.
“I used to have 60 acres. Now I have 58. Two of them were taken for roads. I also have a high-pressure gas line that runs down two sides of my property. All this stuff has been done without my permission, and has been done for the betterment of the people and the county,” said Leak. “I hope one of these days to sell my property and retire. I'm most recently disturbed by the things that come out in this overlay and the amendments being proposed in this overly. You're eliminating the ease with what a small business can go in and make a living in this county.”
Tom Maroney said the amendments were like going back to square one, and the delay posed by special use review would hurt potential business in the county.
“I hope you understand I've been doing this in this county for a long time, and requiring a special use review is like going back to square one,” said Maroney. “All the work we've done on this, we've been trying to invite economic development in. I've had two deals crash right after the planning commission approved the special use reviews. I implore you to look at the regulations for special use review and streamline it. It can't take nine or 10 months.”
The revised EDZ proposal would identify many of the original 40-plus uses by right instead as a special use review, which would mean review by the planning and county commissioners, as well as notification of neighbors, which could take several months, according to Vince Cooper, representative of the CDS. Uses permitted by right could be approved in as little as two months.
Commissioner Chris Richardson addressed concerns over the special use request vs. use by right, and citizen concerns that they would have no notification or say in what is built on the property next to them.
“We generally have a pretty extensive review of all comments, and the one that's been high on my mind, that's come up on several occasions, is the need for public hearing,” said Richardson.
“Primarily I think we were all in agreement that we all recognize transparency in a public hearing process was necessary. We'll be working through a few options, but what we're committed to is a transparent process that provides public notice and public hearing before a decision is made,” said Richardson. “I think we're extremely close to something that meets the goals for the comprehensive plan in providing for some economic return on the roads that the taxpayers have spent a lot of money putting in, and preserving character of the county while making sure things don't happen in a way that surprises people.”
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