In an era in which Columbia County officials routinely are blasted for allowing overdevelopment, it was hardly noticed over the past few months when planners implemented a series of rules designed to improve development in the county's major commercial corridors.
The effect of these rule changes can be glacially slow, taking affect a piece at a time only as new projects come under the added rules. Thus, citizens are unlikely to notice any immediate progress from the county's half-dozen zoning "node overlays."
But someone has noticed: the developers.
One of the area's biggest, Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial Corp., is protesting the new rules put in place for the overlay at Furys Ferry and Evans-to-Locks roads. In a recent letter from their attorney, former state Sen. Randy Hall, the company complained that toughening up the development rules violates private property rights.
In general, Hall's letter accuses Columbia County officials of "going too far" in imposing additional development restrictions, even though the restrictions are probably much milder than those many citizens would like to see.
What, exactly, do the new rules require? Among other things - but specifically contentious for the developer - the rules wouldn't allow a proposed grocery store in the Furys Ferry area to have a drive-through window. They toughen restrictions on parking. And they mandate a series of architectural controls.
That doesn't sound like much, but it's a tough issue - and much more complicated than the radical anti-growth crowd would like it to be. Most people believe strongly in private property rights, as long as it's their own property; others are a little less generous when it comes to someone else's land, especially if it's being used in a way they don't like.
We've seen it plenty of times: Complaints from neighbors about removal of nearby trees that don't belong to them, or anger when a landowner uses his or her land legally, but on a project that isn't what neighbors want.
Striking a balance between public desires and private property rights is difficult, as county commissioners and zoning officials in the hot seat well know. It appears that they've met that test with the county's zoning overlays.
If the only response those officials receive is criticism from developers, however, that certainly won't encourage them to look for more opportunities to stick their necks out on behalf of citizens who don't even notice.
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