The rules that are in place to determine if a property rezoning request should be approved are being ignored and/or misused by Columbia County officials.
Earlier this year a rezoning request for approximately 8.5 acres on Gibbs Road was submitted to the Planning and Zoning office for consideration. The request was to change the zoning of the land from R2 (residential) to R2 Cluster Overlay (high-density residential). The primary difference is that R2 requires 20 feet between houses and the R2 Cluster Overlay requires only 10 feet between houses and allows smaller lots.
During my research as a concerned citizen, resident and property owner, I was advised by the Planning and Zoning staff that the subject 8.5 acres did not meet the criteria for R2 Cluster Overlay and the staff would not recommend approval of the request.
As I attended the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on the subject, it didn't take long to figure out that the real estate firms and developers have a lot more pull in the county that I or even the expert staff that we pay to advise the Commission. A representative of the selling real estate firm addressed the commission and advised that the reason for the request was financial; they needed the request approved because the cost of the land was high and they needed the Cluster Overlay designation so more profit could be obtained.
Please note that financial concerns are not part of the criteria for approving Cluster Overlay. The criteria, as I was advised, is mostly based on the use of the land. If a portion of the land is not usable, then Cluster Overly allows the developer to build the same amount of homes as regular R2, only the houses are closer and the lots smaller. The Planning and Zoning staff advised that this 8.5 acres does not have that problem.
When I had the opportunity to address the Commission, I reminded them that Gibbs Road is 1.3 miles long and is a narrow, two-lane, very curvy road with a speed limit of mostly 35 mph, not including a school zone for Evans Elementary. Included on this 1.3 miles are a fire station, West Acres Baptist Church, two other churches and Evans Elementary, as well as access to Evans High School and the yet-to-be-completed new middle school around the corner on Hereford Farm Road; access to 10 subdivisions, an assisted living residence, a day-care center, other private residences, and significant traffic cutting through to Washington Road. The proposed 8.5 acre subdivision (25 homes) is also located on the most curvy and most dangerous part of Gibbs Road.
I thought all of these reasons were good common sense reasons not to approve the zoning request. I thought wrong because, with a minor exception, the request was approved. A few weeks later the final approval was granted by the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. ...
I realize that growth and expansion are a given in our progressive county. However, the growth must be a responsible and controlled, and we must respect the property value, water run-off concerns and the safety of the owners of existing homes who have helped make this county appealing. Currently, I do not have confidence that this is the case.
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