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Commissioners reapprove town center district

Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2002

It wasn't any more quiet the second time around.

Columbia County Commissioners re-approved the Evans Town Center Overlay District last week - the second time in two years that the ordinance has gone before the board.

And, the second time it was accompanied by a bit of hoopla.

"The Evans Town Center is as dead as some misguided possum crossing I-20, run down by high-speed development," said Al Gray, who's family owns land in the town center district.

The original ordinance adopted in summer 2000 after years of tweaking drafts regulated the architectural, landscaping and other aesthetic aspects of properties zoned anything other than single family or agricultural residential within a 1 1/4 -mile radius of the intersection of Washington and Belair roads.

The original vote came into question after Gail Stebbins wanted to place mini-warehouses on her property near the corner of Belair and Cox roads at the edge of the town center, which is zoned C-1. The request for a zoning change was denied because the heavier commercial and industrial zoning is inappropriate for the area, said Columbia County Planning and Development Director Jeff Browning.

Stebbins is suing the county charging the ordinance is invalid because of a flaw in the legal announcement of public hearings for the ordinance.

The issue was before the county commission again more as a formality to correctly adopt the ordinance. The only difference was how the ordinance describes property affected in the district and the diameter of the circle of affected parcels moved to 1 1/4 -mile radius equalling approximately 5-square-miles.

County Commissioner Frank Spears said he understands that people have concerns about the ordinance, but that any new law will need to be tweaked at some point. In this case, there probably is some tweaking due, he said, but that's no reason to not approve the guidelines.

"(If the commission didn't approve the ordinance), with all the development and everything that is going on around us, it is my opinion, we'd be letting the citizens down," he said.

Earlier this month, the ordinance went before the Columbia County Planning Commission.

"What is here is what people said they wanted after six years," said Edgar Pund, the commission's vice-chairman.

Several county residents stepped up at the meeting to voice their opinions against the ordinance having nothing to do with the legal notices. Most voiced concerns over the growing size of the district and how the ordinance can possibly be enforced.

"Columbia County does not have the resources to manage 5-square-miles with the ordinance as it is written," said Richard Sorensen, a Northwoods subdivision resident. "What you are biting off is more than you can chew."

He, along with many others who spoke, think the idea of the town center is a good one, but should begin as a smaller area.

Thad Gray, the owner of Martinez Realty, is on the very edge of the district on Washington Road, near Club Car. He suggested a two to three block area would be a good manageable area and would create a small-town center atmosphere.

Gray asked to the commission whether the ordinance was legal in the sense it tells business owners how their business should look. Most business owners would apply a little business logic before making unsightly changes to their business property, he said.

"People who run a business are not going to detract from their businesses," Gray said to the commission.

Many speakers simply wanted to know the fate of their home properties in subdivisions which are still zoned as a Planned Unit Development, and would fall under the district regulations.

"The Evans Town Center did not develop overnight," said planning commission chairman Roger Johnson. "It was six years in the planning with public input. It was controversial since day one, always back and forth. In 2000, a public committee was formed to fine tune it even further. There will never be a happy medium. Some are always for it and some against it."



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