Godwin is supporting proposed zoning ordinance

The Grady County Planning Commission has completed its review and revision of a proposed county ordinance to provide for zoning in the unincorporated areas of the county and a large Grady County farmer is backing the proposal.
“You’re going to have a hard time with the agricultural community, but my mind has been changed since I’ve been here,” Planning Commission member Roger Godwin, a major local row crop farmer and chicken house operator, told his fellow commissioners Thursday night.
Godwin’s comments were directed to Southwest Georgia Regional Commission Planning Director Paul Forgey. The local farmer said that many of his fellow farmers look at zoning as more government intrusion and “telling them what they can do and not do with their land.”
Godwin said that since he has joined the planning commission and been involved in the crafting of a proposed ordinance, he understands how zoning can protect agricultural interests.
“The way this is written protects agriculture. Most farmers see it as taking away their rights for ag. Everything I read and am told this protects agriculture and at the same time people still have the ability to take and do what they want to with their land. They can sell their land for a residential development if they want to, but this may cut the guy who buys the land from doing what he wants, but that would be up to this planning commission and the county commission,” Godwin said.
He said there had been talk about a rent-to-own manufactured home subdivision being created in the north part of the county and, without zoning, such a development could be created, but that zoning could protect him and his neighbors from such an undesirable development.
Godwin warned that even though he has had a change of heart on the ordinance, it will be a tough sell to the ag community.
Forgey said he is anxious to carry the plan  to the people and to talk with them about it.
“I want to go out and talk to the folks about the ordinance. That is where we make it or break it,” Forgey said.
The next step in the process is for the planning commission to meet jointly with the Grady County Commission and Regional Commission officials to go over the ordinance the planning commission has developed with the assistance of the Regional Commission planning staff.
Planning commission members said with the county commission being deeply involved in its budget preparations, it will likely be August before a joint meeting can be scheduled.
At that meeting Forgey will review the proposed ordinance with both the county commissioners and the planning commissioners, as well as review the proposed zoning map.
Thursday night, Forgey showed the members of the planning commission a map that highlighted the existing residential developments, commercial developments, manufactured home parks and industrial areas.
The RC planner also showed a similar map done approximately 10 years previously, and it showed increased growth of residential development.
Forgey reminded the planning commissioners that it costs the taxpayers more to provide residential developments scattered all over the county and that most of the burden was on farmers and large landowners.
“They are the ones paying for residential development,” Forgey said.
The planning chief said that a zoning ordinance would help county leaders plan where residential developments are most beneficial for all.
Last week, the planning commission also discussed how to zone existing motocross tracks.
There are currently four active tracks in the county and, after discussing the matter, the planning commissioners decided to include motocross as a nonconforming use under the agricultural zone. Current tracks would be grandfathered in, but if they ceased to exist for a period of one year, a new owner or operator would be required to seek a conditional use permit in order to reopen the facility. The final say on a conditional use permit would be up to the Grady County Board of Commissioners.
The discussion of rent-to-own mobile home parks brought up by Planning commissioner Godwin led to a discussion about zoning for manufactured home subdivisions and parks.
Under the current proposal, manufactured homes are allowed in various zones, but under varying restrictions. In the more restrictive zones, the manufactured homes would be required to have full-length porches, masonry foundations and be situated on an acre lot. In less restrictive zones, the lot sizes vary, porch requirements are less, but all must have masonry foundations.
“We are talking about stucco or brick covering the bottom to make them look more like a site-built home,” Forgey said.
Another topic of discussion Thursday night was billboards, both traditional and electronic.
“Personally, I don’t care for them,” Godwin said. Chairman Wesley Lee suggested not allowing them, other than the existing ones which would be grandfathered if the ordinance is adopted.
Planning Commissioner Roy Jones said they should be allowed, but only on United States highways and limited to those pre-existing billboards. The proposed ordinance, in its current form, calls for a 300 ft. buffer between billboards, but Forgey said that the state requires 500 ft. and in Decatur County the buffer is one mile.
“Let’s just leave what we have here,” Godwin said and Chairman Lee agreed. Planning Commissioner Godwin said it appeared to him that billboards are a dying media. “You see too many of them blank,” he said.
Forgey also sought the planning commission’s thoughts on multi-message or electronic billboards.
Chairman Lee suggested the county prohibit the multi-message boards and stated, “It would be easier to add them in later rather, than to allow them from the beginning and try to take them out later.”  
Planning Commissioner Philip Corker did not offer any comments on the proposed zoning ordinance.
After wrapping up the review of the proposed ordinance, Forgey predicted it would be “hard to sell it to the commissioners” even though the ordinance protects the agricultural nature of the community. The vast majority of the county, under this ordinance, would be zoned agriculture.
Forgey and his team will now come up with a final draft that also incorporates the existing land use standards and prepare the zoning map.
Chairman Lee requested that as soon as the final draft is prepared to distribute to all members of both the planning commission and the county commissioners.
“They (the county commissioners)  haven’t seen any of this. They need to get it as soon as possible to give everyone time to read it and digest it,” Chairman Lee said.
He added, “We’ll see how it goes with them and see what we do from there.” The planning commission chairman thanked Forgey and his staff for their work on the project.
Absent from Thursday night’s meeting was Planning Commissioner Gary Jones.

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