One of Columbia County's perpetually hot topics took center stage Tuesday morning as a Chamber of Commerce panel took turns discussing economic development.
At the Chamber's "Not Just Coffee" breakfast, held at the Belair Conference Center, county officials and a local builder offered their views on topics focusing largely on the pace of development and county efforts to manage it.
"I don't see personally the real problems with the growth we've had," said County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, adding that "aggravation and inconvenience" from increased traffic are relatively mild compared with cities such as Tampa and Atlanta.
County Planning and Development Director Jeff Browning said the fast pace of growth itself hinders the county's ability to manage it. Zoning and planning issues take up the bulk of his staff's time, limiting their ability to focus on long-range planning.
Even so, the county recently completed its 20-year growth management plan, which includes a "commercial node concept" providing a blueprint for future development, Browning said.
That plan, however, should not be set in stone, contended another panel member. Tom Werner, CEO of Pierwood Homes and president of the Builders Association of Metro Augusta, said businesses make long-range plans, but those plans should be adapted in response to changes in the market. Likewise, the growth management plan should be modified as needed to match market trends.
"They can dream and have visions of how the county is going to be," Werner said, but until those making the plans "take their checkbook out" to pay for those visions, the private sector should have a greater role in how such plans develop.
Moderated by Pat Goodwin, a member of the Chamber's Business Development Committee, the panel also included Columbia County Development Authority Director Zack Daffin and Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Beda Johnson.
Both Daffin and Johnson described their roles more in terms of selling the county to outsiders, rather than managing the county's development.
"I have the best job in the world," Johnson said. "I get to sell everything these guys do to the rest of the country and the world."
Photo by Jim Blaylock
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