For the longest time, Columbia County has had the reputation as a “development friendly” community.
No doubt, the county has earned that reputation. The growth we have seen in the past two decades has transformed the county from a mostly rural, sleepy bedroom community to one of the fastest developing places in the state. During that time, some 40,000 people have moved here, choosing our communities, schools and quality of life over other neighboring counties.
To accommodate that demand, houses have been going up by the thousands. New roads and new infrastructure have been constructed at an incredible rate. And now, we are coming out of a extended economic downturn into what appears to be a period of even more rapid growth.
But with all this growth comes a set of challenges and problems. County Administrator Scott Johnson laid out some of these issues before a group of more than 150 developers, builders and engineers last week.
Among the problems the county is experiencing are numerous stormwater failures and poorly constructed neighborhood roads. Streets that shouldn’t need any maintenance for the next five to 10 years are starting to crumble and collapse before the houses on the street are finished.
On top of that, Johnson can cite “hundreds” of instances of problems with erosion control at work sites that lead to polluted and clogged streams and stormwater drains. He says it is obvious that some contractors are ignoring standards.
What also is obvious is that the county is struggling to hold people accountable.
Johnson provided numerous examples of a breakdown in the development process. He showed construction plans that were not followed, stormwater plans that were designed to fail, and entire neighborhoods where lots were designed too small for the homes built there.
He even pointed out examples in which permits were issued for one house, but an entirely different – larger house – was built instead.
How does this happen? Some of it is surely honest mistakes and miscommunications between builders, engineers and county officials. Some likely has to do with shoddy workmanship and failure to supervise contractors. Some can be blamed on the massive workload placed on overburdened building inspectors.
And some, no doubt, has to do with people knowingly circumventing rules and gaming the system.
Johnson seems intent on making the changes necessary to get these types of problems under control. Let’s hope that the development community approaches these changes in the spirit that they are intended, for the betterment of the community and for business.
The vast majority of builders and developers in this county are responsible, honest and civic- minded business people who don’t have to be told to do the right thing. They are the kind of people we want building a better Columbia County.
But for the few who aren’t interested in holding up their end of the bargain, it is time for the county to hold them accountable. Those who don’t see the need for responsible growth and quality building standards can find another county to build in.