Planning and Zoning

Have you noticed? Coverage of Oglethorpe County’s news and events has been pretty heavy recently in the Athens Banner Herald and they’ve even assigned us our own reporter!

Along with the news we also made their editorial page last Friday after our county commissioners agreed to spend the money to take our zoning process to the next level.

The editorial said “Oglethorpe County may be as close to a clean slate as there is in Northeast Georgia…” that we “don’t have to deal with fixing a host of earlier planning mistakes”.

BUT…I am to here to tell you what else needs to be done. We are making a good solid start with zoning. As the secretary for the Planning Commission, I can tell you that I am pleased with the protections the proposed zoning and the new subdivision regulations will provide. (I’m not an expert though-just the lady who listens, learns and writes the stuff down.)

What I also have to tell you concerns everyone in our “clean slate” county just as much and maybe even more than the zoning. That is, we have to get our act together; we have to do a number of things that the average citizen doesn’t think about at all. We have to join the rest of the modern world by instituting application forms, procedures and policies that will both adequately protect the citizen interests and rights as well as relieve our government officials of the necessity of spending meeting time hearing every case or problem that arises.

A case in point is the recent events in Maxeys. A lack of permitting applications and procedures has helped lead to misunderstandings and a situation that has upset a whole community. The new council, having inherited old procedures, scattered and possibly missing council minutes as well as the muddied legality of ordinances, has shown themselves to be dedicated to correcting these problems. Alas, but not before a disturbing crisis that threatens to destroy the community.

On the county level, the Hawkes Landing controversy has already led to a lawsuit. The outcome of this complex issue will also entail financial and human cost for Oglethorpe County residents.

It is natural for a rural, close-knit community to resist new laws and procedures. Bobby Cook said it for everyone at the Crawford City Council meeting: “that’s not how we have done it out here in the past”. Henry Cabaniss was also outspoken in a recent planning commission meeting saying, “we have to avoid over-regulation”.

Unfortunately, the days of personal promises and the handshake to seal the deal isn’t possible in today’s lawsuit-happy world. It is time now to standardize and write down policies and procedures, to create the mountain of paperwork those larger governments hold so dear. And it’s time now to hire on additional staff to administer that paperwork.

There is no question in my mind, if these steps aren’t taken on all levels of government and taken immediately, the citizens of Oglethorpe County will find themselves paying more for lawsuits than for the paperwork and the additional employees.

But be assured this isn’t just the job of your local elected officials and county employees. Every one has a stake in this and I must send you that old JFK message about asking what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do to speed up the process.

Can you do some research? Do you have a computer, the time and appropriate software to help develop forms or produce quality documents? What about offering a personal service to your official so that she or he will have more time to devote to their underpaid (or unpaid) office?

What can all of us do, as the Banner Herald said, to make our “community the most desirable in Northeast Georgia” and to keep the old feelings of family and community that makes it worthwhile for us to live here?