So robust is the growth in Columbia County that both the Board of Commissioners and the School Board are considering tax cuts. Additionally, retail expansion is so dramatic that revenue from sales taxes continues to set records each month.
Yet despite this business boom, some big-box stores in the Evans town center are claiming aesthetic restrictions are hurting them?
Oh, cry us a river.
It was roughly 10 years ago that Columbia County began the forward-thinking step of creating the Evans Town Center Overlay District. While it sounds numbingly bureaucratic, the intent was good: Focused on the Washington-Belair Road intersection, the ETCOD set a layer of development restrictions intended to prevent the area from becoming "another Martinez."
That often-repeated phrase carries special weight, because even now commissioners are eyeing a special tax program to clean up the clutter in the area of Washington Road near the county line.
Though somewhat watered down from its initial form, the ETCOD, along with other "overlays" the county has since enacted, has had far-reaching results. The county's tree-protection rules started as an ETCOD restriction, as did better sign ordinances - all designed to set higher standards for the appearance of commercial development.
The rules were right on time, and clearly haven't been a barrier to retail growth as they have been followed by a virtual stampede of new commercial development. Yet some of that growth has been from so-called "big box" retailers - first Wal-Mart, then Lowe's, and soon Home Depot - and those businesses are now squawking that the rules are too tough.
Specifically, the businesses want the county to relax restrictions that prohibit outdoor displays. While stores in other areas can set out row after row of lawn mowers and fertilizer, those in the ETCOD can't.
It ought to stay that way. Those stores knew the rules when they came here. In fact, it can pretty safely be argued that the aesthetics of the Evans area are precisely what attracted them; how hypocritical to get a foot in the door and now try to ugly the place up.
With that in mind, commissioners need to put their feet down. Don't budge an inch on the town center rules. Evans might be getting "boxed" in, but it shouldn't be getting uglied up.
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