Lowndes County staff says “existing development pattern and growth of the community” is more important than agriculture and forestry for 6. REZ-2022-03 Windy Hill Subdivision, 7532 Miller Bridge Rd., 0010 022, ~34 ac., E-A to R-A on the agenda for the Monday, January 31, 2022, meeting of the Greater Lowndes Planning Commission. Nevermind the surrounding community overwhelmingly opposes this rezoning and it is the Lowndes County Commission (and the Chamber and others) causing this “pattern and growth” heading north into places it should not go and that the county will never be able to collect enough property taxes to support school buses, fire trucks, and Sheriff calls.
Also, they’ve found one R-1 lot nearby and apparently the Rural Residential Character Area on Morven Road counts heavily as “proximity to the Rural Residential Character Area”. And they’ve ignored numerous requirements of the Comprehensive Plan for for the Agriculture/Forestry/Conservation Character Area, as well as what used to be a hard-no county road safety requirement.
In case you had any doubt, this rezoning is not just about this case, it is about the “precedent set by this case for other similarly sized and located properties in Lowndes County.”
Here is the main text of the agenda sheet for this rezoning. I have boldfaced certain phrases and interleaved the relevant maps from the board packet.
HISTORY, FACTS AND ISSUES:
This request represents a change in zoning on the subject property from Estate Agriculture (E-A) to Residential Agriculture (R-A), in order to develop an 11-lot subdivision, with proposed lot sizes of 2.5 to 3.11 acres.
The subject property is located off Miller Bridge Road, a County maintained paved minor collector within the Rural Service Area and an Agriculture/Forestry/Conservation Character Area.
Per Comprehensive Plan guidance, R-A zoning is recommended within an Agriculture/Forestry/Conservation Character Area, while the development strategy aims to maintain the rural character by limiting new development and promoting large lot sizes.
There are currently 151 lots within a 1-mile radius of the subject property, 95 of which are 10 acres or less, with a median lot size of 6.6 acres for the area. (See attachments for complete character area description and breakdown of parcels by acreage.)
Factors for consideration include 1) the predominantly agricultural zoning surrounding the subject property, 2) the amount of lands in open or cultivated states, including woodlands and farmlands, 3) the existing development pattern and growth of the community, 4) the proximity to the Rural Residential Character Area, and 5) the precedent set by this case for other similarly sized and located properties in Lowndes County.
The TRC reviewed the request and found it consistent with the Future Land Use Character Map, though inconsistent with the Community Goals and Policies. The development standards for lot width differ based on the use of a central/public water system or individual private wells, and have not been fully evaluated by the DPH or EPD at this time.
OPTIONS: 1. Approve 2. Approve with Conditions 3. Table 4. Deny
DEPARTMENT: Planning & Zoning Staff: JD Dillard Planning & Zoning Staff
Recommendation by the Commission:
The 2021 Comprehensive Plan Update does not include anything called “Future Land Use Character Map” or “Future Development Map”. The 2016 update frequently refers to “Character Area/Future Development Map” and includes a map called “Lowndes County Character Areas”. That would be the map unchanged in the 2021 update, due to some decision the Commissioners made not in a public meeting.
As you can see, the subject property is in the Agriculture/Forestry Character Area, where it clearly does not belong. The detailed “Future Development Map” of the packet also shows that.
The Comprehensive Plan writeup on Agriculture/Forestry/Conservation Character Area does say R-A zoning is permitted, but is also says (I’ve added some emphasis):
The rural character should be maintained by strictly limiting new development and protecting farmland and open space by maintaining large lot sizes and promoting use of conservation easements. Residential subdivisions should be severely limited and any minor exceptions should be required to follow a rural cluster zoning or conservation subdivision design. New development should not utilize “franchise” or “corporate” architecture but instead should use compatible rural architectural styles. Roadways should be widened only when absolutely necessary. Roadway alterations should be carefully designed to minimize visual impact. These areas should be promoted for passive-use tourism and recreational destinations.
The agenda sheet omitted all the parts I’ve boldfaced. I see nothing in the agenda sheet, the rezoning request letter, or the maps or other materials about “a rural cluster zoning or conservation subdivision design”, or “compatible rural architectural styles” or “These areas should be promoted for passive-use tourism and recreational destinations.” or “Roadways should be widened only when absolutely necessary.”
The developer proposes a 60-foot right of way for the subdivision road. And the subdivision would have only one entrance and exit, which used to be enough alone for staff to recommend denial. Is household safety no longer important to Lowndes County?
And where are all these requirements from the Character Area writeup?
Agricultural Land Use Regulations (DCA Model Code 4-1) – Encouraging preservation of agricultural operations and reducing conflicts between agricultural and non-agricultural land uses. Transferable Development Rights – Enables landowners in an area planned to remain as open space to sell their property development rights for use in other “receiving” areas of the community where higher density development can be accommodated.
Agricultural Buffers (DCA Model Code 4-3) – Requiring new non-agricultural development adjacent to designated agricultural land to provide an agricultural buffer to minimize future potential conflicts between them.
Agricultural Use Notice and Waiver (DCA Model Code 4-2) – Requiring new non-agricultural land uses abutting or within 1000 feet of agricultural land uses to sign a waiver against future nuisance complaints about agricultural operations and their noise, odor or other effects.
The agenda sheet does say: “The development standards for lot width differ based on the use of a central/public water system or individual private wells, and have not been fully evaluated by the DPH or EPD at this time.”
Add those water issues to the numerous Character Area requirements that are not addressed, and it is hard to see how staff could possibly have recommended approval of this rezoning.
That Miller Bridge Road rezoning is still in an aquifer recharge zone, still far outside any appropriate Character Area in the Comprehensive Plan, and still has overwhelming opposition.
The GLPC packet does include this map that opponents tell me was a house-to-house team effort to get people to sign a petition against the rezoning. It shows the parcels owned by the opponents. They’ve got the subject parcel surrounded for miles around.
After I reminded them that they were past the three days the Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) permits for returning responses to open records requests, Lowndes County sent the GLPC board packet materials for the three Lowndes County rezonings at 8:03 AM on Monday, January 24, 2021. They are on the LAKE website now. Why the county does not put them on lowndescounty.com is a mystery, when many smaller and larger counties in Georgia and Florida have been doing that for year.
I thanked them for that much, and noted:
However, the packet is still incomplete, because the Dasher item is still missing: DA-21-1, Jason Wisenbaker, U.S. Hwy. 41 S. & Ben Lyn Road, 0189 058A, 3.38-acre A-U to R-1
Please also send that missing item. -jsq
After speaking with J.D. Dillard regarding your below request, Dasher cases are handled by the Southern Georgia Regional Commission, and all requests for those documents should be handled through them.
I then asked:
Dear Lowndes County,
Is Lowndes County not the custodian of the documents for the Planning Commission?
Who at SGRC sends the County the Dasher cases? -jsq
Then I got a response from J.D. Dillard, who is the County Planner:
Please contact Loretta Hylton at the SGRC for documents related to cases for the City of Dasher.
I will do that, but this runaround should be beneath the dignity of the most populous county for a hundred miles around.
Investigative reporting costs money, for open records requests, copying, web hosting, gasoline, and cameras, and with sufficient funds we can pay students to do further research. You can donate to LAKE today!