The Dawson County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing Jan. 10 on the proposed comprehensive plan, which must be updated every five years in order for the county to retain its Certified Local Government Status. That status is administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and makes the county eligible for state grants and programs.
The plan is a road map for elected officials to use when planning for the future, and the county began the process of updating the plan early in 2018 with the creation of an advisory board, followed by multiple public input meetings held throughout the spring and summer and a online survey that received over 500 responses from citizens.
Though the completed comprehensive plan has been reviewed and approved by the DCA, the county has drug its heels upon hearing of the inclusion of a character area map in place of the future land use map that the board has relied on in the past.
The future land use map shows the current and potential zoning for every parcel in the county, unlike the character area map, which shows sub-areas where multiple zonings are allowed that are all compatible with each other.
In theory the character areas allow for more flexibility for future developers, instead of the more rigid parameters of the future land use map.
Either one is accepted by the DCA, and in the comprehensive plan passed by the board in 2013, both are included.
Adam Hazell, director of planning for the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, has helped facilitate the process of updating the plan. After presenting the version of the plan including the character area map on Dec. 13, Hazell was charged with revising the plan to be more in line with the future land use map that the commissioners were accustomed to.
He presented the board with the new version of the comprehensive plan on Thursday, and said the state is currently reviewing the version of the text that utilized the future land use map instead of the character areas.
“Ninety percent of that I would say is carried forward from your previous document,” Hazell said. “It’s very similar to what you have been using the past few years with a few changes that are incorporated based upon the discussions we’ve had the past year.”
He also stated that the future land use map presented on Thursday did have some errors that his office would be working to fix prior to the Jan. 17 voting session.
During the public comment portion of the hearing, Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore said that the comprehensive plan is not just a document that sits on the shelf but is used daily by the people in her office.
“For us, it’s important we get it right when it comes before you to vote on,” Moore said.
Moore said the maps set expectations for the future.
“Many of us have built houses before or businesses, you want to know in 10 years what’s going to be next to your house or business,” Moore said. “We would argue that the character area makes absolutely the most sense. I hear the argument about it being less restrictive, but I would also say it empowers the commission more to help be part of that process.”
Moore also pointed out a few ambiguities in the proposed future land use plan that she said she would like to see fixed and considered by the board before they vote to pass the comprehensive plan.
“The process has been pretty rushed in the past couple months...I would really like to see just some additional time,” she said. “I do really believe we should pick one approach, or the other, or have both maps but make sure that both maps are very clear.”
Long Range Planning Committee Co-Chair Terri Tragesser said that committee is willing to work to create a map that is correct and addresses future growth and development. She said she wants to see overlays, such as one for the Hwy. 53 corridor, addressed in the plan.
“We have more comfort at this time in staying with the (future land use) map...as opposed to the character areas,” Tragesser said. “Not because we don’t think that could have value but we just at this point don’t know enough about it to feel comfortable with it. I’ve seen future land use maps in high-growth areas serve very well as opposed to the character area maps, but you have to put some overlays on those maps so that they are specific.”
Hazell said he had volunteered to assist the committee to revisit the plan over the course of the year, with the idea of coming back with some additional recommendations for the board.
Hazell said the county is currently out of compliance with the DCA due to not having adopted a new plan, meaning the CLG status is currently suspended. There is no deadline to have the plan completed, but it is in the county’s best interest to have it done as soon as possible.
The county currently has no outstanding funding requests that are impacted by the suspension of the CLG status.
BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond said he felt the board should put off any vote at least for a couple of weeks.
“It’s an evolving document and one that we will need to continuously look at and I think when this board gets to the point of making a vote, a recommendation of which way they want to go, obviously they would want to include allowing our citizens who have been diligent to continue to work on that document and making it a better document, that’s the reason we tasked them in the beginning to be a long range planning committee,” he said.
The board voted to table a decision until the Jan. 17 voting session.
“I want to take a deeper dive and make sure we’re doing it correct,” said District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines.
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett said she is conflicted about the possibility of losing funding.
“We can adopt what we have, but we can amend it,” she said. “I am worried about deadlines, I am worried about funding. The committee can still meet and delve further into this.”