The 2050 Plan: Com­ments from a cit­i­zen mem­ber of the Lead­er­ship Col­lab­o­ra­tive

The Covington News - - OPINION -

My wife and I moved to Cov­ing­ton in Jan­uary of 1982 af­ter an ex­ten­sive search for a place to live and raise our fam­ily. I had taken a po­si­tion work­ing in down­town At­lanta and could have lived any­where in the metro area. We chose Cov­ing­ton be­cause of its small town at­mos­phere, the pic­turesque City Square, and its ru­ral countryside. Like most cit­i­zens in New­ton County, we had real con­cerns when the build­ing boom hit in the 2000’s and the county started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mas­sive, out of con­trol growth. We saw the very char­ac­ter­is­tics of the county that brought us here dis­ap­pear at an alarm­ing rate.

Fast for­ward to 2005 and I was serv­ing as an ap­pointee on the New­ton County Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­ity Board. Devel­op­ment pres­sures were hit­ting our county hard. Be­cause of the need to ad­dress prob­lems recre­ated by poorly con­trolled growth, the idea of the Lead­er­ship Col­lab­o­ra­tive was born. This was an at­tempt to get rea­son­able peo­ple to­gether to solve some of the prob­lems im­pact­ing ev­ery cit­i­zen in the county. The mem­bers of the Lead­er­ship Col­lab­o­ra­tive in­clud- ed elected and ap­pointed officials, as well as key staff from the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, the New­ton Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­ity, Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, Cov­ing­ton-New­ton Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Cities of Cov­ing­ton, Ox­ford, Por­terdale, New­born and Mans­field.

At our first meet­ing in 2005 there was a lot of ap­pre­hen­sion by most col­lab­o­ra­tive mem­bers about the chal­lenges we faced. We all un­der­stood that the threats to our com­mu­nity were sig­nif­i­cant enough that we were go­ing to have to work to­gether to ad­dress them. One of the great­est chal­lenges faced by the group was how we will ac­com­mo­date another 250,000-300,000 peo­ple who will move here by 2050 and still con­serve key ar­eas, pro­tect our wa­ter sup­plies and re­tain some of our county’s farms and ru­ral char­ac­ter. Some­thing had to be done to com­pen­sate landown­ers in the ru­ral and con­ser­va­tion zones for pro­tect­ing their land from devel­op­ment. Af­ter look­ing all over the coun­try we learned of a pro­gram called Trans­fer of Devel­op­ment Rights (TDR) that has been used ef­fec­tively in other parts of the U.S.

The vol­un­tary TDR pro­gram al­lows a ru­ral landowner or farmer to keep their land, yet re­al­ize a fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit if devel­op­ment rights are sold to some­one who wants to in­crease the den­sity of a devel­op­ment project in an area of the county that al­ready has the in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port it. TDR’s al­low a ru­ral landowner to gen­er­ate funds for re­tire­ment, pay for col­lege or for what­ever they wish and yet leave the land to their heirs. But, it’s true that the land can­not be sub­di­vided for res­i­dences later. On agri­cul­tural land, own­ers can still build barns or chicken houses, plant trees, grow crops and raise live­stock while en­joy­ing lower taxes. This is a win/win for the landowner, for the de­vel­oper and for the county be­cause it pre­serves our ru­ral char­ac­ter and pro­tects our wa­ter sources, while al­low­ing growth in ar­eas that can best ac­com­mo­date it.

Yes, there are still is­sues to be worked out with the TDRs, and with the hous­ing den­sity al­lowed in con­ser­va­tion and ru­ral zones. How­ever, let’s not throw the whole idea out un­til we have taken time to re­ally eval­u­ate whether this con­cept could ben­e­fit county landown­ers and tax­pay­ers in the fu­ture.

One point that has had very lit­tle dis­cus­sion is the sav­ings that the 2050 Plan could gen­er­ate for tax­pay­ers and rate pay­ers of New­ton County. A Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia econ­o­mist es­ti­mated that if this plan goes into ef­fect as writ­ten, it will save New­ton County tax­pay­ers $3.3 bil­lion by 2050 com­pared to con­tin­u­ing our present ap­proach to growth and devel­op­ment. Tremen­dous sav­ings can be re­al­ized by low­er­ing wa­ter and sewer in­fra­struc­ture costs, re­duc­ing school sys­tem costs, adding more lo­cal jobs, hav- ing less traf­fic con­ges­tion, lo­cat­ing re­tail es­tab­lish­ments in walk­a­ble cen­ters and in­creas­ing agri­cul­ture-re­lated jobs.

If you lis­ten to some com­ment­ing at the pub­lic meet­ings you would think this plan is a com­mu­nist plot to take over New­ton County and was pre­pared by out­side elit­ists who know noth­ing about our way of life. Ac­tu­ally, it was pre­pared by cit­i­zens of New­ton County who put forth their best ef­fort to de­vise a means to deal re­spon­si­bly with fu­ture growth. Many serv­ing on the Lead­er­ship Col­lab­o­ra­tive were un­paid vol­un­teers like me who spent hun­dreds of hours on this project. I’m not a de­vel­oper, large landowner or a lawyer. I am not a rich guy that stands to gain any­thing by im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan. I am an or­di­nary cit­i­zen, re­tired from my ca­reer and no longer serv­ing on the wa­ter and sew­er­age au­thor­ity. All I own is my house and lot in Cov­ing­ton. Most of our cit­i­zens are like me and will ben­e­fit from the 2050 Plan by hav­ing a county that con­tin­ues to pos­sess the char­ac­ter­is­tics that make it a great place to live. Please con­tinue to ed­u­cate your­self about the 2050 Plan, de­cide on your own if this is what our com­mu­nity needs and then let our elected officials hear from you.

Sin­cerely, David Waller Cov­ing­ton, Ge­or­gia

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