Mark it on your calendar: Nov. 16, 2004. It's not quite The Day That Will Live in Infamy, or the Day the Music Died; but maybe it was D-Day, if "D" stands for "developer," and by "D-Day," we mean "not a good day to be one."
That's because on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2004, just a little after 7 p.m., in Evans, Columbia County commissioners turned down a rezoning request.
And not just any rezoning request: This rezoning request was from a developer who wanted to pack more houses onto a site than the current zoning would allow.
In other words, commissioners turned down a request for higher-density housing. It wasn't quite a landing on the beaches at Normandy, but developers still may have heard bullets whizzing past their ears.
Let's skip all the legal language and zoning mumbo-jumbo: The developer, Hereford Farm Development LLC, wanted to take a piece of land on Hereford Farm and build 93 homes on it. The current zoning for the property says that only 65 homes can be built there, so the development company sought a rezoning.
The neighbors include former County Commissioner Charles Allen and his wife, Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, who sold the property to the developer. They didn't want 93 homes shoehorned into a site that shouldn't even hold 65.
Commissioners heard it all, and amazingly sided with the Allens and other neighbors. It's even notable that it went to a vote: Usually when passage of a rezoning request is iffy, the person seeking the rezoning will voluntarily pull if off the table. That way, he can bring it back for consideration whenever he wants to.
But when a rezoning goes to a vote, a loss means it can't come back to commissioners for a year. So it's serious business, and commissioners -- among them a commercial builder, a developer and a landlord -- are well aware that the stakes are high.
Maybe, just maybe, commissioners are also learning that the county's residents are getting tired of seeing their community carved up into cheap, cookie-cutter, high-density housing tracts that bust open school doors and drag down neighborhoods.
Nov. 16, 2004, may not really be D-Day. But at least it's the first shot.
Flashes of humanity
Two of the more passionate -- as in sometimes uncontrollably emotional -- public officials in Columbia County are Tom Mercer and Jim Whitehead, who coincidentally were boyhood buddies.
This past week, the two of them let their emotions brim over, in different venues and in different directions.
Whitehead, set to take office Jan. 1 as the state senator representing the 24th District, addressed the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Forum Thursday.
Whitehead covered a wide range of issues: growth, the state budget, tort reform. But his emotions welled over when, of all things, he pointed to his lapel pin: He doesn't yet have his state Senate badge, and was wearing his Columbia County pin from his days as a county commissioner.
He's been in Columbia County 40 years, so he's a hometown boy -- and heading off to Atlanta to represent his "adopted" community is an overwhelming experience.
On the other side of the spectrum, this past Tuesday, Tom Mercer was seething.
Management Services Director Todd Glover had reported on negotiations in which he had managed to get Columbia County's share of indigent defense bills reduced by $275,000. Savings or not, Mercer didn't like spending a dime of it.
"This is a very sore spot for me," Mercer fumed. "I just can't get over the fact that somebody goes out there and commits a crime, and comes back to me the taxpayer to pay to defend him. It just burns me up," he said, to audience choruses of "Amen, brother!"
It's the law. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.
Preach on, Brother Mercer. And weep on, Brother Whitehead. From such authentic sparks come signs of humanity, a reminder that those who get elected were once, and still are, one of us.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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