Some folks may have been taken aback when Harlem officials - for the second time in recent years - turned down a rezoning request to allow construction of a discount store.
Whats going on here? In a city perpetually hurting for commercial revenue, why the seeming hostility toward a viable business?
The answer is that Harlem officials have taken a look to their future, and seen the value of preserving the past.
Columbia County and its other city, Grovetown, have experienced growth rates in recent years that have simply been too high for officials to get in front of. The Evans town center district was the most ambitious attempt for county officials to control growth, but even that effort has hit snags as businesses exploit loopholes in the planning guidelines.
For Harlem, however, the most recent U.S. Census shows the city lost population in the last decade. While thats bad news for a city struggling with the need for expensive improvements to its infrastructure, it has presented a remarkable opportunity.
Under Mayor Scott Dean, the city is taking advantage of what it hopes will be the calm before a storm of growth. The city is revising its rules for zoning and construction to make sure when that growth comes, it will be compatible with Harlems small-town charm.
You cant go back and say, "Wait a minute - we dont like that, says Dean. You have to have these kinds of resolutions in place before you have these ugly boxes and that kind of stuff.
The planning process already is getting results. Dean says developers are showing renewed interest in city projects, waiting for Harlem to lift a rezoning moratorium officials put in place while construction guidelines are revamped.
Every year, thousands of people descend on Harlem for the Oliver Hardy Festival, where they celebrate an important figure from the citys past. In coming years, more of them should be coming to the city year round - thanks to officials whose awareness of that history gives them a firm footing for Harlems future.
As Harlem looks for ways to prepare for its future, its good that Columbia Countys Chamber of Commerce is making an effort to reach out from its traditional Martinez-Evans base.
New Chamber Director Gordon Renshaw visited Harlem and Grovetown soon after taking office; next week the countys Development Authority will hold its monthly meeting at a Harlem restaurant.
County and city governments in recent years have learned the importance of cooperation. The Chamber outreach is a great way to continue that process.
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