The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners met Aug. 8 and voted unanimously to deny the amendment to the Economic Development Zone, sending the plan back to planning commissioners to address …
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The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners met Aug. 8 and voted unanimously to deny the amendment to the Economic Development Zone, sending the plan back to planning commissioners to address concerns raised by citizens at the BOCC meeting.
The meeting was standing room only, as dozens of residents attended to express their concerns about the EDZ — some for and some against the proposed overlay zone that would allow property owners within the zone to forgo rezoning procedures to develop their land as commercial or industrial.
Officials from the Town of Elizabeth, who just two weeks ago took to social media and distributed flyers expressing their opposition to the EDZ, surprised the crowd by announcing they had met with county officials and were no longer opposing the EDZ, based on compromises promised by the county.
“We believe we have reached a compromise,” said Megan Vasquez, mayor of Elizabeth. “We are no longer opposed to the EDZ. We will maintain this position as long as the county abides by the agreement. We still have broader concerns about the EDZ countywide and how it could affect the town and region long-term. We hope the county will engage with citizens and towns.”
According to Sam Albrecht, Elbert county manager, the town and county have worked well together to reach a compromise.
“We talked about 86 West not being included for one year,” said Albrecht. “There is a major realignment project being done by CDOT, and we don't want any hiccups in that project. We also want to make it clear the Town of Elizabeth may request further extensions of pending areas past one year.”
The text of the proposal would also be modified, according to Albrecht, to recommend a 90-day, rather than the proposed 60-day, time frame for property within the three-mile zone around Elizabeth be considered for annexation by the town. The intergovernmental agreement (IGA) would be modified as well.
Elizabeth residents speak
Several residents of Elizabeth spoke out about the impact the EDZ would have on their town, including the more than 40 approved rights of use.
“According to the map I live in Elizabeth, but am apparently a pimple on the county,” said resident Cindy Pulsipher. “We are proud individuals, we have an identity, we are not a pimple in the community... We don't want to see our town become the strip mall that others have become.”
Pulsipher's comments were met with applause from many in the crowd.
Ward Van spoke in favor of the EDZ, and expressed frustration at the continue delays brought on by citizen concerns.
“I'm in favor of the EDZ zones. We've been going through this process for about nine months, and it seems like every time we get to the last meeting, Elizabeth or Kiowa comes and speaks out,” said Van. “I planned on being the first applicant in the EDZ, I'm hoping to build my business and bring jobs to town. I'm not trying to do what I couldn't do without the EDZ, but I think the EDZ would help the process a little bit. Growth is coming, and we need to start building a tax base built on business and commercial buildings, and take some of the burden off the backs of homeowners.”
Residents offered suggestions for the commissioners when revisiting the EDZ, including a notification process for neighbors when landowners in the EDZ decide to build on their property.
“Property owners need to be notified when something big is brewing,” said Jacqueline Eden. “We need to have notifications in place for adjacent landowners, and confirm that those notifications are early enough in the process where neighbors can still have a voice.”
Commissioners agreed that communication between landowners was an issue they would like to see included in the revised EDZ.
Resident Holly Ferris suggested the EDZ include a more detailed, easier-to-read map, and that commissioners find a better way to keep the community informed.
Some residents urge EDZ
Landowners near Simla expressed concern that rural areas like theirs were being caught up in the demands of Elizabeth, and said they would like to see the EDZ passed sooner rather than later, so they can develop businesses and create jobs in their part of the county.
Commissioner Danny Willcox said changes to the proposed EDZ would merit taking the document back to the beginning stages of the process.
“We can't accomplish this with just amendments,” said Willcox. “It looks like this is going to take the official document back through the entire process. We're going to have to go back and amend everything, essentially start all over.”
Commissioner Chris Richardson said it was important to get the EDZ right the first time.
“The right thing to do is turn it back to the planning commission for changes,” said Richardson. “I'd also like them to take a very close look at the uses by right. None of this has ever been an attempt to just shove things down people's throats. It's been a very public process. But if we just adopted the map and said we'll get to the changes later and the language, that's not the way to do it. We should turn it back to the planning commission and get it right the first time.”
Commissioner Grant Thayer said he didn't see the process as starting over, but agreed the langage and map needed to be tidied up.
“The three of us absolutely concur that neighbors should receive notification when something is being built on their neighbor's property,” said Thayer. “There are some small edits, so if we're going to be opening it up let's tidy it up. I hope when this comes back to us from the planning commission both the map and regulations will be updated.”
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