Discussions about the future of the Marshall Square property in Evans have taken a turn for the absurd - especially when they don't take place at all.
It's way past time for common sense to get a foothold in this thing. So inexplicably hot is this development potato that just a discussion about it scheduled during a recent Columbia County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting - just talk, with no action planned - abruptly was yanked from the table when county staffers received "numerous" phone calls from the public. Gasp.
Those calls came after The Chronicle accurately reported that a discussion of the project was listed on the agenda. Those calls spooked the planning staffers, who nixed the discussion.
The Marshall Square plans are supposed to be back on the floor Tuesday for a Planning Commission work session. If they don't chicken out again, perhaps the latest twist in this project can take another step toward being settled.
Here's why it should: Marshall Square is private property.
That concept seems to surprise a lot of people, but it's true. Believe it or not, Marshall Square is not the collectively owned property of the residents of nearby neighborhoods.
Marshall Square also is not owned by the Planning Commission or the County Commission. It isn't owned by the county's planning staff, or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or any other government agency.
Marshall Square is owned by the Marshall family, which has sunk millions into preparing the site for development. Thus far they've landed a Chili's restaurant, sitting like a lonely outpost at the edge of a 47-acre frontier.
But it's the latest revisions to the plan for the site that have staffers running for cover. They include a request to shift around the apartments already approved for another part of the development.
Let me repeat: The revisions are for apartments that already have been approved for the site. Apartments have always been a part of the Marshall Square plans. Even if the developers made no revisions, the complex still would have hundreds of apartments.
Historically, I oppose construction of new apartments. They're a tremendous burden on schools, and Sheriff Clay Whittle often points out crime problems drawn to them.
And while the county has backed itself into a corner, I think they could have been even bolder in opposing new apartment rezonings.
Snobbery? Fine. Sue me. I worry that apartments cheapen the theoretical entry fee for new residents to the county, which ultimately means a lower median income, which eventually means a less-attractive community. Schools suffer, crime increases, and some day the folks who call such an attitude elitist will look around and say, "Who let this happen?"
But whatever my feeling on apartments, the fact is that the Marshall Square apartments are already on the books. They're coming whether I or any other non-owner of the project wants them or not. The proposed revisions to the plan amount to little more than moving around puzzle-pieces to get what the private property owner believes is the best fit.
The development of a "downtown" in Evans has been a long time coming, and the best chance of getting it is a combination of the county's government complex and new parks and the Marshall Square project across the street from them - which, like it or not, is going to include apartments. Because that's what the owners of the private property want to build.
As long as they're obeying the law and meeting the county's construction codes, they have a right to do that - and anyone who respects the right to private property in their own back yard should respect the Marshall family's private property rights, too.
This nonsense has gone on long enough. Approve the plans and get out of the way - or buy the land yourself.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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