This probably isn't what most people had in mind.
Back nearly 10 years ago, county officials and ordinary citizens got together in Evans. They started forming a vision for something that would later be known as the Evans Town Center, a concept of creating a "downtown" in the midst of one of the county's fastest-growing areas.
It was an intriguing idea. So what happened to it?
The Evans Town Center Overlay District, a set of zoning guidelines radiating out for a mile from the Washington Road-Belair Road intersection, was a good, noble idea. Far too often, the biggest complaint about places like Columbia County is that too little is done to manage growth; the ETCOD was an ambitious effort to get a head start.
Because there is a limit to government control over the free market, however, problems developed from the beginning:
The ETCOD included a well-written ordinance designed to prevent huge, unsightly signs from popping up as the commercial areas developed. But a billboard company swooped in and applied for a permit just before the law went into effect, grandfathering in a giant sign at the town's center.
The rules also prohibit unsightly metal buildings, requiring stone, brick or stucco on new commercial construction. But the Evans Dollar General builder dropped in the paperwork before the rules went into effect, allowing the metal building's high-profile spot on the Evans strip.
Disputes over outdoor displays - at car dealerships and at Wal-Mart - forced the county to revamp the rules to accommodate market realities.
But it perhaps was the construction of the Wal-Mart itself, with five acres under its roof, that most seems to have hijacked the town center vision. Now, with Lowe's under construction on one corner of the Washington/Belair intersection, and a Home Depot likely to be built across the street, the concept of boutiques and beauty is giving way to big boxes and snarled traffic.
There is a silver lining in such massive construction, of course; thanks in large part to the Mullins Crossing center down the street, the county's sales tax revenues are bulging.
It is unlikely, though, that all the money will be enough to recapture the town center vision, or to relieve the awful traffic jams that worsen with each new big box or strip mall.
The Marshall Square center across from the county's government complex seems to be exactly the sort of thing those town-center dreamers envisioned. Yet just like the big boxes, it will be built entirely with private money.
That's the moral of the cautionary tale. Bureaucrats and planners can dream all they want. But as long as the money for development comes from private investors, the developers will build what the market - not the visionary plans - will demand.
For Evans, that means big box hardware marts, which hardly seems like anyone's vision of a quaint downtown.
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