For a visible sign of what growth means, look no further than Columbia County's roadsides. Chances are pretty good there will be a dead deer lying somewhere, the loser in a confrontation with an automobile.
Such accidents - roughly 500 of them last year - are symptomatic of man's increasing encroachment on what not so long ago were rural areas. The problem continues to rise along with Columbia County's population, which is expected to reach 100,000 this summer.
Of course, deer aren't the only losers as populations grow. Long-time residents see their quality of life threatened as newcomers strain services. Developers build businesses to tap into the revenue from the growing masses and often impact neighborhoods like motorists plowing through deer habitat.
Taxpayers don't have to just stare into the bulldozers' headlights and become the roadkill of progress, however; unlike deer, they have the God-given capacity to understand how development can affect them in the future - and sense enough to protect themselves or get out of the way.
Here are two ideas in this regard: Residents should take advantage of a rare opportunity to see just how things work in the county's government and its generally misunderstood zoning process.
A seminar tonight at the Columbia County Government Complex Auditorium in Evans will provide information on the county's zoning laws, spelling out what a grass-roots volunteer organization calls the "alphabet soup" of zoning designations (see the letter below from Jeri Whitworth of Evans).
Citizens worried about the impact of growth on their neighborhoods and their community must first learn how the system works. The developers who want to do business in Columbia County learn the details of the county's laws to make the most of their investments; residents can't reasonably expect to safeguard their own interests if they don't likewise educate themselves.
Once citizens learn these rules, they must take action - and not just when they feel their own street is threatened. That means paying attention to elections, encouraging candidates who take a strict, by-the-book attitude.
We also believe it means supporting impact fees on new development, an idea that understandably drives builders nuts.
But just look around Columbia County at the proliferation of apartments and cheap attached housing; that flood of new residents strains infrastructure built by those who already live here. Shouldn't there be an admission fee for newcomers wanting to take advantage of what our great county has to offer?
There no longer is any excuse for taxpayers, either new ones or old-timers, to stand doe-eyed in front of fast-moving progress. Tonight's meeting is a good start in learning how to take action instead of just staring into those headlights.
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