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County officials must find balance in managing future growth

Posted: July 4, 2015 - 11:11pm

“Proceed with caution” signs dot roads throughout Columbia County.

The construction-zone messages are directed at motorists navigating the expanding network of suburban roads, but they could just as easily serve as a warning to county leaders mapping out the region’s growth during the next couple of decades.

That Columbia County is growing is not a surprise – that’s been the story for more than 30 years now.

What’s changing is the nature of that growth, as well as what residents – newcomers and old-timers alike – expect out of their community. Like it or not, the county is no longer the semi-rural hamlet it was when suburban growth started taking off in the 1970s and 80s.

As revealed by telephone and online responses to the recent Vision 2035 survey, residents clearly want less sprawl, higher-quality developments and green-space preservation. The county not only has grown out – it’s grown up.

It’s not that residents no longer want growth. It’s that they want smart growth. They don’t want spot zoning, but they do want walkable neighborhoods with sidewalks. They don’t want cheap housing, but they do want affordable housing.

We can sympathize with county officials trying to keep up. Maintaining an even keel amid the crush of growth isn’t just a balancing act – it’s a juggling act.

One can only assume the demands will intensify as the county’s population continues to expand and becomes more diverse over time. Like the thousands of new families expected to relocate to the area because of cyber warfare expansions at Fort Gordon, many of Columbia County’s future residents will be more cosmopolitan and less likely to be “from around here.”

Meanwhile, the county’s older neighborhoods are attracting first-time homebuyers and renters who might have been unable to afford a Columbia County address in the past.

You already can see the changing attitudes reflected at Columbia County Commission meetings, where residents have become increasingly vocal in recent years about what they see as a lack of planning, poor growth control and an indifference by county officials to citizen concerns.

Right or wrong, the perception exists. And county leaders would do well to be mindful of it during the course of their duties.

Yet, people continue moving into the county unabated even as the growing pains continue to manifest in the form of complaints from the citizenry, traffic snarls and crowded schools.

Clearly, the county still has something the people want. It’s up to leaders to ensure that doesn’t change.

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