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Raucous crowd comes out against zoning ordinance

A majority of those attending the first four of nine public hearings on a proposed zoning ordinance for unincorporated Grady County are adamantly opposed to the new law. Opponents Monday night at the Midway Volunteer Fire Station often spoke out with raised voices and in some instances foul language.
The hearings are being facilitated by members of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission staff and they are being accused by some in attendance of being socialist or conspirators of the United Nations in its “Agenda 21” plan for sustainable development globally.
Dr. Jeff Bivins and his father, former Grady County commissioner George Bivins, have on more than one occasion accused Regional Commission Executive Director Dan Bollinger of being an agent of the United Nations and the elder Bivins accused Bollinger at an earlier hearing as being a “liar.”
Monday night, Bollinger, who said he could no longer dismiss the accusations, took the floor to rebuke the Bivinses.
“I am neither an agent of the United Nations nor the federal government, and I am not a liar. I work for the 14 counties and 44 municipalities in this district,” Bollinger said.
The verbal confrontation was short lived after Georgia State Trooper Craig Singletary, who was in attendance, requested Dr. Bivins come to order.
Criticisms of Grady County Code Enforcement Officer Larry Ivy were also leveled by some residents in attendance Monday night, but Grady County Commission Chairman Elwyn Childs asked that members of the public not be critical of Ivy since he was only doing the job required of him by the board of commissioners.
Monday night’s meeting was the fourth straight hearing where not a single member of the Grady County Planning Commission, which met numerous times with Regional Commission planners to develop the proposed ordinance, was in attendance.
Following the brief introduction of the ordinance and explanation of the procedure for rezoning was given by Regional Commission Planning Director F. Jay Sargent, the floor was opened for questions and comments.
Candice Eubanks, 3049 GA Hwy. 188, asked what would be the cost to local taxpayers to “sustain this ordinance?”
As was the case in many instances at both Monday night’s hearing and the prior three, the answers to many questions are not yet known, but Sargent noted frequently that county officials are taking note of all questions and once the answers are known they will be shared with the public.
The Regional Commission director of planning also told the audience that prior to the ordinance being formally adopted a public hearing(s) will be held at the courthouse. He said that at that point all questions could be answered.
Durie Cooper, 3040 GA Hwy. 188, says the additional regulation would place a “hardship on the people who can least afford it to start with.”
W.L. Maddox, 1318 Midway Road, told county leaders that zoning would “drive jobs out of Grady County. If neighbors have problems they need to talk and work it out that way.”
Greg Maison, 2454 Lower Hawthorne Trail, questioned why a chemical plant would be allowed as a special use in an agricultural zone rather than limited to industrial zones. No one with the Regional Commission or the county offered an explanation.
Charles Perkins, 329 Beth Page Road, asked, “Without zoning is there no way to stop someone from putting God knows what next door to me?” Grady County Dist. 3 Commissioner Charles Norton, who represents Midway, said that the county’s special land use ordinance established strict setback requirements for “most anything out there.”
Ed Sherred, 1655 Pine Park Road, and Linda Aycock, 302 Pine Cone Lane, were critical of the $12,000 cost of the Regional Commission to develop the proposed ordinance.
Sherred said he had served on the planning commission in Panama City, which he noted was a much larger community, and he was not paid to serve. Ms. Aycock questioned the commission’s authority to spend tax money on the ordinance and suggested the county as a whole should have been asked to approve the expenditure.
Betty Godwin, Pine Park Road, noted that the ordinance contained masculine verbs although and there are many women property owners in the county and she also said that in some instances the wrong word was used or words had been omitted. She encouraged the county commission to solicit written comments from local residents who were not comfortable or unable to attend the series of public hearings.
Robert Sellers, 267 Grant Road, told commissioners “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and Keith Pearson, 1256 Ridge Road, said, “it’s time to say enough tax is enough tax.”
During the hearing Monday night, participants suggested the question of zoning be put on a ballot while others questioned why Commissioners Al Ball and T.D. David, whose districts are primarily sections of the city of Cairo, should be allowed to have a say in the issue.
Marilyn Joyner, 1253 Joyner Road, asked, “what is the commissioners’ objection to have this put on the ballot for the whole county to vote?” County officials declined to comment.
Marcus Pearce, 165 Azalea Lane, suggested the commissioners put the issue to a vote immediately. “I’m pretty sure that three of you will vote it down. All of this is bull. Y’all vote tonight and be done with it and we can all go home. Let’s stick with what we got,” Pearce said.
Tony Ward, US 319 South, who has been a vocal proponent at previous hearings took the floor again Monday night to speak out in favor of the proposed ordinance. “How can we expect any progress without zoning?” Ward asked.
Pat Ernest, Cassells Road, said that his home is located near a shooting range and motocross track, but his question was, if, without zoning, would it be permissible for a motorcycle repair shop to be built across the road from him. He said if it could, then there is a need for zoning, but possibly a smaller, more general version.
Others present said they may not necessarily favor the ordinance as proposed but would support some form of zoning.
At the end of the hearing Monday night, 80 of the 89 present voted against the ordinance, five in favor and four did not vote at all.
Similar results were recorded at the previous meetings. The results at previous hearings were: Beachton, 31 against, eight for, and 17 undecided; Calvary, 35 against, one for, and one undecided; Reno, 95 against; three for, and four undecided.
The next meeting will be Thursday night, Feb. 23, at the Pine Park Volunteer Fire Station beginning at 7 p.m. Then next week a hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Monday night at the Whigham Boy Scout Lodge, Tuesday at the Pine Level Fire Station, Thursday at the Spence Volunteer Fire Station and the last scheduled hearing will be Monday, March 5, at the County Line Volunteer Fire Station.

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