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Series of zoning forums is considered

Grady County commissioners expressed interest Tuesday in engaging the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission to facilitate discussions regarding development of a zoning ordinance for the county, but are not ready to invest $12,000 into the project.
Commissioners discussed and debated a proposal from the Regional Commission (RC) that would include the participation of RC staff from start to finish on the development of a zoning map and ordinance for the county.
Vice Chairman Charles Renaud expressed his opinion that  by contracting with the RC the county is not “pursuing” zoning, but were simply looking at all possibilities and supplying the public with good, not bad or faulty information so that citizens can make an educated decision.
“This may lead to the adoption of a zoning ordinance or it may not. I see it simply as an exploration of what zoning could or could not mean for the county,” Renaud said.
Chairman Al Ball supported moving forward with discussions of the matter and to carry those discussions out to the people in various locations throughout the county.
“I would encourage us not to confine these discussions to the courthouse, but to take them out to volunteer fire stations. If we open the doors to better lines of communication and if this is what residents want they will have the opportunity to share their desires with us. Or, if they oppose it they will have the opportunity to say no,” Chairman Ball said.
County Administrator Rusty Moye originally recommended holding sessions around the county, but he emphasized the importance of the commission, planning commission and RC officials developing the basics so that people could be made fully aware of how zoning would impact them.
“It’s just a suggestion but you should come together with the planning commission and the RC and let them walk you through all the zones they know are out there and then you as  a board and the planning commission decide what would be included in the various zones here in Grady County,” Moye said.
He also stated, “this is when you come up with ideas and a plan. You then go out and share those ideas with the public and have it spelled out. We’ve got to tell them what uses are allowed in which zone and then ask them for their input.”
The county administrator said that was the only approach that would make it possible for citizens to offer worthwhile suggestions and make intelligent decisions regarding zoning.
Ball agreed and said that by having sessions around the county it would make it more comfortable for participants who otherwise may be intimidated by the courthouse setting and not come forward with comments or suggestions.
The commission chairman said the decision had to be made whether spending $12,000 would lead to a decision on zoning or if the county was just giving $12,000 away and no decision is ever reached.
“The closer you get to the door you put your foot in,” Commissioner Charles Norton, a vocal opponent of zoning, warned Tuesday.
Commissioner Bobby Burns, who reminded commissioners he made a motion in May 2005 to pursue zoning but the motion died for lack of second, voiced his opposition to paying $12,000 until the commission could gauge the public’s opinion on zoning through a series of public hearings.
“It appears to me that we could go out and do a personal survey if you want to call it that through these hearings and gauge the support or opposition before we spend this money,” Burns said.
Moye again recommended that the commission and planning commission meet together with the RC staff to outline a basic proposal before carrying it to the public.
Commissioner Burns said that a local zoning plan would not require very many different zoning classifications and it should be simple for the local officials and RC staff to come up with a proposal.
Vice Chairman Renaud noted that the proposal by the RC was based on their experience in developing zoning plans for other southwest Georgia communities.
Commissioner Burns said that zoning primarily provided protection for homeowners and that commercial property owners “don’t care about zoning.”
Renaud took issue with that and reminded commissioners what Joint Development Authority Executive Director Brian Marlowe had told them, that commercial developers did not want to come into an area where people are upset they have located there.
The commission vice chairman also said that areas like Beachton where the Turner Furniture Company has made a $4 million investment would favor zoning protection that would prevent such incompatible uses like strip clubs or sex shops from locating next door.
“Mr. Burns, what is considered ok in a R-1 zone in Colquitt County is not necessarily the same thing as R-1 in Seminole County. It is a matter of us sitting down and setting up the zones and then taking that information out to the people. If we go out with generics you put out bad information and people make bad choices,” Renaud said.
Burns agreed, but said that could be done in a single session with the planning commission and members of the RC staff.
“I’m hearing what you are saying and why not let me talk with (RC Executive Director Dan) Bollinger about what we’ve just talked about and see what kind of fee he would charge us for that,” Moye said.
The administrator would recommend the RC facilitate a meeting with both commissions to discuss the various zones and then take that information and a rough draft of a zoning map out to the public.
“That would give the citizens a better picture of what we are talking about,” Moye said. He also commended the commissioners for their frank discussions Tuesday. He noted, “There has been more discussion here today than in any time in the past. Gentlemen, you really talked about the issue today.”
Commissioner Burns commented, “I just don’t see pushing this down the people’s throat. I will not be part of an effort to push it down their throat if they don’t want it.”
Moye replied, “most of the people in the unincorporated areas don’t know what zoning is. This would be an effort to help educate them.”
According to Commissioner Norton, the only people outside the city limits who favor zoning are people who have bought one or two acres in the county and they want the land next door to stay the same.
“The people who really own the land in this county don’t want it,” Norton said.
Burns reminded Norton that there are people in the city whose property is bordered by the county who favor the protection zoning provides.
Both Commissioners Norton and Elwyn Childs referred to the existing land use regulations and asked if strictly enforced, would that ordinance not provide the same protections as zoning.
County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley said the primary difference was that with a zoning ordinance it includes a map that is zoned and provides a tool for future planning. “It would be up to you which you thought was the best tool for planning,” Cauley said.
County Administrator Moye agreed to contact RC Executive Director Bollinger and to report back to the commission.

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