New com­mit­tee for zon­ing changes meets

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By KEVIN MYRICK Editor

The Polk County Com­mis­sion em­barked last week on a task that could change the en­tire land­scape of Polk County – ge­o­graph­i­cally, vis­ually, and eco­nom­i­cally.

Whether that change will be for bet­ter or for worse de­pends on what re­vi­sions come out of an over­haul of the county’s zon­ing or­di­nance, a task the com­mis­sion hopes to com­plete by June 2016.

The re­vi­sion process will be con­ducted un­der the guid­ance of the North­west­ern Ge­or­gia Re­gional Com­mis­sion, and fund­ing was set aside in their bud­get for Fis­cal Year 2016 in or­der to help with the process

Polk County’s newly formed zon­ing pro­ject com­mit­tee – chaired by Jason Ward and in­clud­ing com­mis­sion chair Ste­fanie Drake Bur­ford – met for the first time on Sept. 10.

Ward said what Polk County seeks in its re­vised or­di­nance is sim­ple: an or­di­nance that will al­low for re­spon­si­ble growth and an or­di­nance that avoids the mis­takes of neigh­bor­ing coun­ties.

Ward em­pha­sized that he doesn’t want to see the county suf­fer the con­se­quences of fail­ing to plan for growth. Those con­se­quences, he said, are ev­i­dent in the pat­tern of growth seen in some sur­round­ing coun­ties.

“We’re not against good de­vel­op­ment, but we want stan­dards that make sense,” he said. “We don’t want to end up in a sit­u­a­tion where com­mer­cial build­ings are thrown up hap­haz­ardly and in dif­fer­ent styles, with dif­fer­ent road frontages,” Ward said.

Denton said he wanted four main things from the new lan­guage: pro­vide an up-to-date doc­u­ment, no con­flicts with state law, it must with­stand le­gal chal­lenges, and must fit in with what other coun­ties in the re­gion are do­ing.

The idea is to be com­pre­hen­sive, Denton said, tak­ing into ac­count both pro­tect­ing re­sources and Polk’s agri­cul­tural in­dus­try while at the same time rec­og­niz­ing that the lan­guage of the zon­ing or­di­nance needs fixes.

Bar­nett Chit­wood, who has decades of ex­pe­ri­ence with the North­west Ge­or­gia Re­gional Com­mis­sion (NWGARC), is also on the zon­ing pro­ject com­mit­tee,

and will be work­ing on the lan­guage of the changes over the next sev­eral months. He brought along com­mu­nity plan­ner Ethan Cal­houn from the NWGARC to help in the com­ing months of re­vi­sions to be done.

Money in the NWGARC bud­get was set aside specif­i­cally for Chit­wood and Cal­houn to work on the zon­ing or­di­nance changes, Denton said.

Fund­ing for the NWGARC comes from the 15 coun­ties that make up the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Chang­ing and clean­ing up the ex­ist­ing zon­ing or­di­nance is go­ing to be a lot of work, Chit­wood told the com­mit­tee, adding that he has ques­tions and con­cerns on ev­ery page of the or­di­nance.

“There are things in this or­di­nance that I’m con­fused about be­cause it isn’t ex­actly clear as to what is be­ing de­fined, or who has au­thor­ity in cer­tain ar­eas,” he said.

Chit­wood said spe­cific ar­eas of con­cern are how the or­di­nance ad­dresses spe­cial use per­mits, how sig­nage is reg­u­lated, and how var­i­ous prop­erty uses are de­fined.

His first and im­me­di­ate sug­ges­tion was to con­struct a sep­a­rate or­di­nance gov­ern­ing sig­nage in the un­in­cor­po­rated parts of the county.

He said the lan­guage re­gard­ing the way sig­nage is de­fined and con­trolled in the ex­ist­ing or­di­nance could re­sult in le­gal chal­lenges.

“There’s no rea­son why you should have your zon­ing or­di­nance fall un­der a con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge, and right now it could,” he said.

He pro­posed that the county also put to­gether a free stand­ing or­di­nance gov­ern­ing zon­ing pro­ce­dures and stan­dards.

Chit­wood said that doc­u­ment could be in­cluded as an ap­pen­dix to the reg­u­lar zon­ing or­di­nance.

Chit­wood said the rea­son for both moves is sim­ple: by putting sig­nage reg­u­la­tions and zon­ing pro­ce­dures in doc­u­ments sep­a­rate from the body of the zon­ing or­di­nance, the com­mit­tee will be able to re­view and fo­cus on re­vi­sions to the real meat of the zon­ing or­di­nance.

Ward said the time spent re­view­ing and re­vis­ing the or­di­nance will be time well spent.

It will en­sure that lo­cal laws, in­clud­ing the zon­ing or­di­nance, are con­sis­tent with the county’s vi­sion for the fu­ture.

Com­mis­sioner Ward said that as chair of the com­mit­tee, his great­est con­cern is that the county will be able to pro­tect its agri­cul­tural her­itage and nat­u­ral re­sources while at the same time en­cour­ag­ing thought­ful growth within ar­eas of the county where growth makes sense.

“I think, in gen­eral, county res­i­dents live out in the county be­cause they want to be left alone,” Ward said. “It’s a way of life they ex­pect to be pro­tected.”

He said he be­lieves the county should con­tinue to push for in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment within the mu­nic­i­pal lim­its, since the county’s re­sources for such fa­cil­i­ties are lim­ited.

The com­mis­sion­ers and Chit­wood agreed that the zon­ing changes should in­clude plans for over­lays on cur­rently zoned ar­eas along high­way cor­ri­dors to plan for fu­ture growth.

Zon­ing over­lays iden­tify uses that may be per­mit­ted in the fu­ture although they are not part of the ex­ist­ing zon­ing.

The com­mit­tee agreed to dis­cuss another po­ten­tial need in the fu­ture: reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing in­stal­la­tion of sewer sys­tems on pri­vate prop­erty in un­in­cor­po­rated parts of the county.

County man­ager Matt Denton made it clear that he doesn’t want zon­ing reg­u­la­tions to in­clude sep­tic tank use, since the county’s health depart­ment of­fi­cials al­ready reg­u­late the in­stal­la­tion and main­te­nance of those sys­tems.

Denton said his main goal is to adopt a timetable for com­plet­ing the zon­ing or­di­nance re­vi­sions and putting the re­vised or­di­nance to a vote be­fore the full com­mis­sion.

Chit­wood said that all the work would have to be fin­ished by June 30, 2016, since that would be the end of the Re­gional Com­mis­sion’s fis­cal year and no more pro­ject funds would be set aside.

“We also have to con­sider that along with this, we’ll be work­ing on Polk County’s Com­pre­hen­sive Plan, and Haralson’s as well,” he said.

“So we’ll be busy on a num­ber of projects be­tween now and next year.”

The zon­ing re­vi­sions will be han­dled sep­a­rately from the com­pre­hen­sive plan.

Chit­wood said he ex­pects to com­plete an out­line of next steps some­time this week.

Along with the re­vi­sions to the or­di­nance, Denton said the county’s zon­ing maps will have to be up­dated and cor­rected.

No date was set for the next meet­ing of the com­mit­tee, and Chit­wood asked that for­mal meet­ings only be sched­uled when re­quired.

He promised to pro­vide the com­mit­tee with reg­u­lar up­dates on the re­vi­sion process.

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