The Columbia County Planning Commission two weeks ago postponed a decision on rezoning a piece of Evans property for a shopping center with a big grocery store. They can't duck an answer when the issue comes back Thursday night.
We believe they should refuse to rezone the property. Here's why.
It's not unusual for a small home site in the Evans area to carry a sale price of $100,000 and up, yet that amount of money can easily buy 10 to 20 acres in the west end of Columbia County.
What's the difference? The Evans land is more convenient to the county's commercial centers and closer to most schools, and its infrastructure - a function of its heavy population - is complete. That's why it's more expensive.
The rural land, in contrast, requires more travel time for work and shopping, and far-flung residents often lack municipal water and sewer systems, paved roads or cable television. So it's cheaper.
Installing water and sewer lines and paving roads makes that rural land more valuable. Residents often buy the cheaper land, and then petition the county for those improvements - in essence, getting all taxpayers to pay for upgrades to individuals' property.
Carry this analogy back to Evans for Thursday night's Planning Commission meeting. Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial Corp. has put together 14 acres of land at Furys Ferry and Evans-to-Locks roads, and wants the county to rezone the property for heavy commercial use so the developer can build a shopping center and get a 62,000 square foot Kroger.
There is plenty of vacant land in the county already zoned C2, but it's more expensive and in many cases a location isn't as desirable. The Furys Ferry site is right where the marketers want it, but it has the wrong zoning - neighborhood commercial and residential.
By granting the request to rezone the property, the county would be providing the equivalent of those paved roads and water lines to rural residents - using the authority of the county to increase the value of an individual's property.
This is where the analogy breaks down, however. In those rural areas, everyone in the neighborhood benefits when roads are paved and water lines are installed. By granting the rezoning for the Evans shopping center, however, planning commissioners could very well harm the value of the land surrounding the center - especially for those who want the area to stay residential.
Those nearby residents can't expect the land to stay natural and undeveloped. Most of it is already zoned for neighborhood commercial use.
But it's entirely reasonable for neighbors to fight for the land next door to remain in the less-intense zoning category, and for commissioners to not spoil their neighborhood by allowing development to swell beyond what the county's own studies call for.
In some respects, county officials are snared in a Catch-22 of their own making. Years ago, they allowed an exception that boosted the size of the nearby Bi-Lo; now, the Kroger lured by Blanchard & Calhoun would be even larger. Yet just across Furys Ferry, commissioners have repeatedly fought off a large commercial center; if they cave in now, that property owner has grounds for legal action.
The conundrum isn't grounds for avoiding a decision, however. "Most people I talk to aren't in favor of it," says County Commissioner Steve Brown, who represents the area and will watch Thursday's vote closely.
Whatever the outcome, the issue will be in the hands of Brown and his fellow county commissioners soon for a final decision - and it will be up to them whether to boost the value of a developer's land at the expense of neighbor's homes.
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