’ 20 acres’ dom­i­nate 2050 dis­cus­sion

More of the same con­cerns at third meet­ing

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

Thurs­day’s pub­lic hear­ing on the 2050 Plan be­gan as did the two be­fore it – with an in-depth dis­cus­sion of a par­tic­u­lar part of the doc­u­ment, in Thurs­day’s case the “com­pact com­mu­ni­ties” and higher-den­sity zon­ing ar­eas planned for the western part of the county.

But an hour later, when the floor was opened to ques­tions from the pub­lic, the re­frain was fa­mil­iar – res­i­dents don’t like the 20-acre min­i­mum lot sizes in the eastern and far north­ern and south­ern ar­eas of the county. They don’t think the “trans­ferrable devel­op­ment rights” con­cept will work, with no guar­an­tee of a mar­ket. And there’s just some­thing in­her­ently un­fair, a few said, about not hav­ing a ref­er­en­dum to pass the thing.

In­ter­est­ingly, the 20-acre bit still has legs.

County Com­mis­sion Chair­man Keith El­lis called the idea of 20acre min­i­mum lots in con­ser­va­tion dis­tricts and 10-acre min­i­mums in ru­ral dis­tricts “ex­ces­sive,” but pledged to es­tab­lish a cit­i­zens’ panel to tell him and other com­mis­sion­ers what might work in­stead.

“If it’s not 10 and 20, you need to tell me what it is. Is it two and five?”

His com­ments were met with a mix­ture of boos for the 20 acres and ap­plause for the much-lower sug­ges­tions.

“I wish we could strike (the 20acre min­i­mums in the or­di­nance) off right now so we would not have to talk about it any­more,” he told the 200 or so peo­ple at Thurs­day’s hear­ing in Flint Hill Ele­men­tary School near the air­port.

“I’m not for the 20 acres,” he ex­plained Fri­day. “I think there’s very lit­tle pub­lic sup­port within the com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially in the ru­ral ar­eas. I have heard this time and time again from my con­stituents. Re­peat­edly, I have asked for it to be struck now, (in­clud­ing) a few weeks ago and as late as Mon­day.”

“Cit­i­zens need to help us fig­ure out what they have an ap­petite for. There is a so­lu­tion. There is com­mon ground.”

He said the cit­i­zens’ panel

“could be the place to de­cide ex­actly what the (min­i­mize acreage) av­er­age should be.”

Hunter Hall, pres­i­dent of the New­ton County Cham­ber of Com­merce, said the plan­ners and con­sul­tants have “heard you loud and clear in re­spect to the 20 acres,” and that the Lead­er­ship Coali­tion that put the plan to­gether will con­vene a sub­com­mit­tee in com­ing weeks to look into al­ter­na­tives.

He said plan­ners don’t want to “knee jerk and just wipe it off.” If the 20-acre min­i­mum is deleted, he said, it’s im­por­tant to know what that will do to the plan’s fo­cus on clean wa­ter, and how and if TDRs will work.

El­lis said the plan “is a tough deal” for the com­mis­sion­ers, and asked at­ten­dees Thurs­day: “How many of you are a lit­tle bit mad right now?”

Hands shot up, eas­ily from three-fourths of the peo­ple in the Flint Hill cafe­te­ria.

“I’m not re­ally (happy) ei­ther,” El­lis said. “What I want to say to you to­day is this has quite a long way to go. … It might have been taken out of the oven a lit­tle too early, but it’s here now.

“I can as­sure you I can’t see (its pas­sage) hap­pen­ing this year.”

‘Over­reach’?

Back on track, Hall asked for ci­vil­ity in fu­ture dis­cus­sions (he got it, with a calm crowd Thurs­day) and for peo­ple with ques­tions to line up and use the mi­cro­phone so every­one could hear their con­cerns. He got that, too.

“What I’m hear­ing tonight seems to be an ex­treme over­reach,” said landowner Scott Jay. He sug­gested a ref­er­en­dum to pass the zon­ing. “The whole county should have a vote whether we want to go this route or not. This isn’t At­lanta. We’re kind of taken aback. (Plan­ners) are try­ing to force-feed some­thing that be­longs in larger metropoli­tan ar­eas.”

Caleb Raci­cot, who wrote the codes for the 2050 base­line or­di­nance, re­it­er­ated what he’s said in the two pre­vi­ous pub­lic hear­ings: “Un­der state law you can’t have a (bind­ing) ref­er­en­dum on zon­ing.”

Non-bind­ing ref­er­en­dums, sure. But he said the state re­quires govern­ment bod­ies, not ref­er­en­dums, to make changes in zon­ing.

An uniden­ti­fied man promptly said he was wrong.

The meet­ings have been like that.

Jay asked what’s to stop fu­ture com­mis­sions from re­zon­ing prop­erty once the lim­ited num­ber of TDRs gen­er­ated by land in con­ser­va­tion and ru­ral dis­tricts are sold, if they’re ever all sold, from sim­ply re­zon­ing the pre­served land and start­ing over.

“Noth­ing pre­vents fu­ture com­mis­sion­ers from chang­ing zon­ing,” Raci­cot said. “That’s the na­ture of zon­ing.”

Farms OK, TDRs a gam­ble

Other ques­tions Thurs­day per­tained to small farms on land where TDRs have been sold (al­lowed, Raci­cot said), homes al­lowed on smaller lots where they al­ready are (no ex­ist­ing res­i­dences will be af­fected, Raci­cot said), and the mar­ketabil­ity of TDRs (no guar­an­tees, Hall said, just like in any mar­ket).

One man pointed on a map to the north­ern part of the county where he owns land, then pointed to the blank spa­ces mark­ing the lo­ca­tions of the neigh­bor­ing Rock­dale and Walden coun­ties. “Can we com­pete?”

The an­swer is yes, Hall said. Busi­nesses like Bax­ter ap­pre­ci­ate the steadi­ness and sim­plic­ity of the 2050’s con­sol­i­da­tion of land uses and zon­ing dis­tricts through­out the county, and un­der­stand the sav­ings in­volved in co­or­di­nated pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture. He said a com­pany’s net sav­ings over 50 years would be about 13 per­cent con­sid­er­ing that fac­tor alone.

“That’s bot­tom-line num­bers,” he said. “We ac­tu­ally see it as a very valu­able con­cept to be able to re­cruit and re­tain in­dus­tries.”

Just a draft

Hall and Raci­cot again em­pha­sized, as in past meet­ings, that the 2050 Plan is a draft. It’s ver­sion 1. Af­ter the pub­lic hear­ings are com­pleted, the lead­er­ship col­lab­o­ra­tive will com­pile com­ments from the pub­lic, make changes, and present ver­sion 2 in pub­lic hear­ings for more com­ment. Ver­sion 3 will then be pre­sented to the county and its five mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which can then make changes in sev­eral other ver­sions be­fore fi­nal adop­tion.

The num­bers the county is fac­ing make plan­ning a must, Hall said. There were 20,000 res­i­dents of New­ton County in 1950. There are 100,000 to­day. From 1980 to 2010, New­ton County grew 79 per­cent, adding 78,989 res­i­dents, com­pared with 42 per­cent growth in the coun­try, 59 per­cent in the state, and 74 per­cent in Metro At­lanta. Es­ti­mates are for a pop­u­la­tion of 400,000 by 2050.

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