Race relations and Southern heritage took center stage at the Columbia County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.
The board unanimously designated April as Confederate History Month in the county but not before hearing strong statements from black county residents against the move.
After the proclamation was presented to John Partridge from the county's chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Evans resident Jennie Roberts said she was upset that the commission already had it framed and ready for the meeting.
"Right here in Columbia County, I'm faced with something that really smacks of racism, of separatism," she told the board. "You cannot tell me that you represented me tonight when you came prepared to award a proclamation that wasn't even voted on yet."
County officials looked into issuing the proclamation after a request from the county's Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith said that while researching the month's history, he found that surrounding counties and the state also recognize the month, which marks the end of the Civil War for Georgia.
Partridge, who brought the proclamation request to the county, told commissioners that the designation was to increase awareness of the county's role in the Civil War. He said that 500 of the county's men, or one-third of those suitable for service, fought.
"Our purpose is not to have a month of celebration but rather a time to encourage our citizens to study the history of the war and the part that Columbia County played in that war," Partridge said.
Also at the Tuesday meeting, commissioners voted to allow a revision in the planned unit development zoning for a shopping center at the intersection of Washington Road and Country Place Lane.
The zoning, which has been in place since 1984, has gone through several changes during the years as the project continued to morph on the undeveloped land.
"With the sewer coming to this area, this PUD is now a reality," county Planning Director Jeff Browning said. "It is going to be developed."
He said the revision does not change the land's permitted use and the current plans call for adding nearly 2,000 square feet, or a 2 percent increase in size.
Martha Beattie, who has lived in Country Place since 1988, told the board she was concerned with buffering between the proposed development and nearby neighborhood.
"The residents here had no idea of what was happening until they found four bulldozers wrecking our beautifully landscaped driveway," she said.
Browning said county planning officials have addressed several of the neighbors' concerns, including enforcing a 50-foot buffer, screened garbage dumpsters and a retention pond for runoff.
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