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Forgey says zoning protects farm land

Southwest Georgia Regional Commission Planning Director Paul Forgey says one of the best ways to protect the abundance of productive farm land in Grady County is through zoning.
The planning director appeared before the county commission Tuesday night to discuss several issues including the contract between the county and the RC to develop a proposed zoning ordinance.
Forgey says that as the economy improves, Grady County will be facing even greater development demands and one of the best ways to protect farm land would be through a proposed new county zoning ordinance.
“Tallahassee is expanding and people are looking more and more at the border counties to get out of Tallahassee. Grady County is beautiful and land is relatively cheap, so as the economy improves you will once again be facing development demands,” the RC planning director said.
The plantations in south Grady County provide the county somewhat of a buffer between development coming up from the south, but Forgey said developers are always looking for cheap land that has little or no regulations.
He says Early County was targeted by a company wishing to build a coal fired power plant because of its lack of regulations and relatively cheap land.
“I’m not saying if Early County had zoning that they still wouldn’t approve the plant being built, but with zoning Early County could have decided the best place in the county for it to be built. It is important to plan for the best use of the land and not impose on neighbors. Sometimes people think about themselves more than their neighbors. It is more equal for everyone with zoning,” he said.
“You don’t have to convince me or probably some other members of this board that zoning is the best way to protect farm land, but that will be the most difficult job you face is convincing those in the community that zoning will protect farms and farm land,” Commissioner Al Ball commented.
Ball asked Forgey how many times had he had personally been involved in the development of a zoning ordinance. The planning director told commissioners he has been involved in the drafting of several ordinances to more or lesser degrees including Seminole County, Thomas County, Colquitt County, the city of Moultrie and the city of Meigs.
“I’m starting out with a simple ordinance for Grady County. One that is not too complicated to administer,” Forgey said. He plans to craft the ordinance to address the needs of the county, as he sees them, and then to seek input from the planning commission and county commission to add to or take away from as a way of customizing the proposed law.
Commissioner T.D. David asked if Forgey was familiar with any jurisdiction that adopted a zoning ordinance and then found it did not work and abandoned it. Forgey said that has not happened in this region of the state, but he was aware of jurisdiction where an ordinance was adopted but the elected officials chose not to enforce it.
“I would rather see you abolish it and take it off the books rather than allow it to sit out there on the books and not enforce it,” Forgey said.
The RC planning director is optimistic the ordinance could be completed by late summer and even faster if the county so chooses, but he says the actual time it takes will depend on the amount of public input the county allows in the process.
Forgey plans to meet with both the Grady County Planning Commission as well as the county commission to discuss the goals of this process and develop a timeline for the project.
“You will tell me what you think needs to be included or taken out of the ordinance,” Forgey said.
He plans to work with the planning commission to accomplish most of the “grunt” work.
“I understand that some people do not like zoning. Some people just don’t understand it. It is important to explain to the public why zoning is important. This is a good opportunity to try and educate the public about the importance of it,” Forgey said.
Based on Forgey’s projected time line, public hearings on the draft ordinance could be held as early as May. Commissioners have discussed the possibility of holding several meetings around the county and possibly at volunteer fire stations in the rural areas of the county.
Forgey said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss the ordinance with the public, but he noted that the additional hearings or public meetings were outside of the contract and the fee for each one would be an additional $250 per meeting.
The RC planning director estimates the county could be prepared to vote on adoption of the ordinance by August or September.
He also told commissioners that the contract calls for three months of assistance with implementation of the zoning plan. Acknowledging the state of the economy, Forgey said it could be that there is very little zoning activity in the three months immediately following adoption so he would be flexible as to when that three months of implementation assistance began and ended.
“I want this to succeed and I want it to work well for you and this community. I’m not going to say three months after adoption we’re done. We will work with you,” Forgey said.
According to Forgey, he will be meeting with Building Official Larry Ivy today, Wednesday, and with the planning commission on Thursday to begin the process.

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