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Study shows counties with zoning are more prosperous

As Grady countians prepare to attend a series of public hearings to learn more about the proposed county zoning ordinance, a study completed in 2001 by the Economic Development Institute & City and Regional Planning Department of the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates that counties that are zoned are more prosperous than those that are not.
As of 2001, 63 Georgia counties, all rural, including Grady, had not adopted a zoning ordinance. Since the study was completed, that number has dropped to 46 of Georgia’s 159 counties that do not have zoning ordinances.
The Georgia Tech study compared rural counties that are zoned with rural counties like Grady which are not zoned.
The 2001 study was funded by a grant from the Georgia Rural Economic Development Center of East Georgia College in Swainsboro, and the goal was to help community leaders make informed decisions regarding adoption of a zoning ordinance.
More than 200 economic development and planning professionals from across the state were interviewed as part of this comprehensive study on zoning in Georgia.
In comparing zoned and nonzoned counties, the study shows that 35 Georgia counties have had zoning in effect for more than 30 years and that 14 of those are rural counties.
The research found that rural Georgia counties with zoning have a higher per capita income, higher average manufacturing wage rate, and lower food stamp participation rate than counties without zoning.
The Georgia Tech study also shows that zoned counties have lower unemployment rates, higher labor force participation rates, and larger employment bases than counties without zoning.
On top of that, the study indicates that rural counties with zoning have higher assessed property values than counties without zoning.
The study also concluded, “Economic development benefits are numerous, including, but not limited to: (1) business and citizen preference for land use predictability; (2) assurance for prospects that their investment will be protected; (3) the ability to guide future development and prevent haphazard (e.g., patchwork), harmful or unwanted development; and (4) the minimization of potential conflict between industry and residents.”
Researchers in the 2001 study wrote, “Findings from this investigation suggest that zoning does make a difference, and, specifically, that the presence of zoning generally helps a rural community’s economy grow and that zoning appears to improve a rural community’s competitive advantage for economic development.”
Between 1984 and 2000, the per capita income in counties with zoning was $630 higher in 1984 than in nonzoned counties and by 2000 the difference was $1,415 higher.
Statistics from 1994 to 1999 indicate that counties with zoning had property values that were 11.4 percent higher than in counties not zoned.
The Georgia Tech study states that zoning can only “make a difference” if there is leadership and citizen support and understanding, having a quality ordinance, integration of a well-conceived comprehensive plan, the applicability and enforcement of the ordinance.
In southwest Georgia the only counties that do not have a zoning ordinance are Grady, Decatur, Early, Calhoun, Webster and Schley, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Some of the smaller, rural counties that have zoning and have for many years are Oconee, Jones, Morgan, Butts, Bryan, Jasper, Lamar, Greene and McIntosh. All of these counties have had zoning for more than 30 years.
City and county planning officials say zoning gives the community the ability to “guide development, manage growth, and protect property values.”
Planners with the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission, who helped draft the proposed Grady County zoning ordinance, say that zoning protects prime agricultural land.
Ironically, the Georgia Tech study indicates that in counties where attempts to implement zoning have failed, it was due in part to strong opposition from large landholders and farmers.
However, the study notes, in one coastal Georgia county public sentiment among farmers shifted in favor of zoning because developers were taking agricultural land and dividing it into five acre lots to create mobile home parks.
Through surveys of Georgia officials, the leading problem identified with a lack of zoning is the “frequent occurrence of unwanted development.” The research also states, “general land use concerns such as inability to predict adjacent land uses or ensure quality of life through compatible land uses” can be addressed with zoning.
Researchers also found out that “those who once argued against zoning because they viewed it as an infringement on their property rights are often also those who argued ‘not in my backyard’ and eventually became strong proponents of zoning.”
The conclusions of the study are that zoning better positions the community for future economic development.
The Georgia Tech researchers also concluded that zoning provides the community a guide to what development will be and where it will go.
While surveying economic development officials in Georgia’s unzoned communities in 2001, researchers discovered that more than half considered the absence of zoning to be an economic development liability.
“In sum, many findings from this investigation suggest that zoning does make a difference, and specifically that the presence of zoning generally helps a rural community’s economy grow and that zoning appears to improve a rural community’s competitive advantage for economic development,” researchers wrote.
The Cairo Messenger has posted an electronic copy of the entire study on the newspaper’s website.
Public hearings on the proposed zoning ordinance kick off next Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Beachton Volunteer Fire Station. Other hearings next week will be held on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Calvary Volunteer Fire Station and then on Thursday at the Reno Volunteer Fire Station at 7 p.m.
On Monday, Feb. 20, a hearing will be held at the Midway Volunteer Fire Station and on Thursday, Feb. 23, a hearing will be conducted at the Pine Park Volunteer Fire Station. All hearings begin at 7 p.m.
A total of nine hearings will be held and will be facilitated by members of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission staff.
The Grady County Commission has published copies of the complete proposed ordinance and those are available at the courthouse, The Cairo Messenger, all public schools and other locations throughout the county.
For more information, call the commission office at 229-377-1512.

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