Dawson County is moving closer to being in compliance with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs after unanimously passing an amended comprehensive plan and future land use map last week.
The comprehensive plan is used by elected officials as a guideline for future growth and development. The plan must be updated every five years and is a requirement to maintain Certified Local Government Status in Georgia, which makes the county eligible for state grants and programs.
The board of commissioners failed to adopt an updated plan in 2018, putting the county out of compliance with the DCA.
At a public hearing for the plan on Jan. 10, members of the Long Range Planning Committee commented that the process of updating the plan had been rushed toward the end of the year, and that they were uncomfortable with the proposed “character area map” that was included in previous drafts.
“We have more comfort at this time in staying with the (future land use) map...as opposed to the character areas,” said Terri Tragesser, chair of the Long Range Planning Committee. “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.”
Tragesser also said she wanted to see a Hwy. 53 overlay district developed, which would specifically define how growth could look in that corridor.
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore said the proposed maps had several ambiguities she wanted to see corrected.
“For us, it’s important we get it right when it comes before you to vote on,” Moore said.
The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, which has been helping coordinate the update to the comprehensive plan, went back to the drawing board on the future land use map and came back to the board on Jan. 24 with an update.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines made a motion to approve the plan with several stipulations.
His first stipulation is that Planning Director Jameson Kinley must meet with Tragesser within 30 days to develop a plan to work on a Hwy. 53 overlay and any adjustments needed to the future land use map.
His second stipulation is that within three months he would like the committee to provide feedback to the board of commissioners on any progress made.
Lastly, he said the board of commissioners should look into the best way to review and adjust county zoning ordinances to ensure compliance with the comprehensive plan.
Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said he thought it was important the board look at hiring someone specifically to help Kinley update the ordinances.
“Because we’re requiring him basically to keep his head above water now with what’s coming in the door, so I think it's important and incumbent on this board of commissioners to either through a contract or some methodology to get someone that is specifically looking at those and updating them as we go along,” he said. “I don’t think we need to dally too long in the process of doing that.”
Gaines said that the ordinances and Hwy. 53 overlay are critical and need to be taken care of as efficiently as possible.
“We get developers knocking on our door every day; we’ve got to get our house in order as quickly as we can to kind of make sure that our ducks are in a row for defensive positions or whatever we may want to do,” he said.
Also during the meeting, Kinley presented an updated Capital Improvements Element, or CIE, which must be adopted as a chapter of the comprehensive plan. The CIE is a wish list of projects and shows how impact fees will be earmarked and utilized to pay for capital improvements.
The CIE was last updated in July 2018, before the board voted to reinstate impact fees in August, and must now be updated annually.
Projects that the fees will be used to fund include seven new fire stations, a new branch library, an additional 200 acres of park space and improvements to heavily-trafficked county roads including Lumpkin Campground Road.
The board will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 for the CIE. The draft will then be sent to the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission for review.