Columbia County's newly appointed Growth Management Plan Steering Committee met for the first time recently, kicking off a process that will last more than a year and focus on ways to address the county's growth.
The committee, comprising 30 people from the county's business, schools and economic development sectors and from Harlem and Grovetown, was appointed in November and will address ways the county should respond to its burgeoning population during the next five years.
At a Dec. 13 meeting, committee members heard from Jeff Dorfman, an economics professor from the University of Georgia who presented growth statistics for the county.
"You don't want growth management to be fighting against growth because you'll lose,'' Dorfman said. "You want to work with it.''
Dorfman told committee members that, based on his research, he favors high density housing development because developments that take up more land cost more in infrastructure costs.
Dorfman said he also would favor more business growth in the county and impact fees for residential developments, which are applied to new preojects to offset additional infrastructure costs.
He also suggested the county consider creating an ordinance that might have large developments offer the county's school system a certain acreage of land as part of their development for a future school site.
Lately, the county's school board members have expressed concerns about how high density growth in the county has resulted in overcrowding of some schools and caused the need for more classrooms.
Columbia County Schools Superintendent Tommy Price, a member of the growth management committee, said the problem is that the state approves the construction of a new school only after there is adequate documentation of school overcrowding, meaning school systems are unable to plan ahead for growth.
Price said that when the school system tries to build a new school in a highly populated area, the cost of the needed land is much higher and harder to find.
The committee also has discussed its goals for the next several months. Members have been told they will focus on eight areas: the county's population, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resources, transportation, community facilities, land use and intergovernmental coordination.
The committee will hold its first public meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 10 and on the second Monday of each month, completing an assessment by April 2005.
A second round of public meetings to present the committee's findings, goals and vision will occur in July 2005.
The overall plan, which could affect zonings and ordinances, would then go before the Board of Commissioners in February 2006 for final approval.
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