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The more things change, complains the same

POSTED: July 6, 2017 7:00 p.m.
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Jeff Whitten is managing editor of the Bryan County News.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Take the debate over growth in South Bryan in general and Richmond Hill in specific.

Change a few of the main characters in this drama and we could be back in 2007, when a lot of folks were arguing over the rapid pace of development, many pointing accusatory fingers at what some called "stack-a-shacks" on Highway 17 and down 144, and handing out bumper stickers saying "no condos on the Ogeechee."

You could hardly turn around back then without getting into the middle of a spat over growth and a call for impact fees.

At its heart was a combination of rising property taxes, which were going up fast, and what some saw as a declining quality of life, as lines at the grocery store got longer and roads got crowded (hey, in 2006 the much anticipated widening of 144 was imminent).

In the middle of all this boom came the recession, which hit here a bit later than it did elsewhere but still by about 2009-2010 accomplished what those who opposed all the growth couldn’t — it did a number on the local housing market.

Folks who called themselves developers suddenly found themselves competing with folks who called themselves real estate agents for full-time retail jobs, just to make ends meet. It even impacted this newspaper. We’d grown from once to twice a week by 2007, only to struggle along with the rest of the local economy until ultimately the News went back to publishing one day a week.

Times here got so weird that in 2008, when a talking head on Fox News labeled Richmond Hill one of the country’s top five hottest real estate markets, former Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis and former Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed held a "pep rally" of a public meeting to share the news. Dozens of folks turned out to bask in the positive vibe.

It turns out the woman was right because, sure enough, Richmond Hill is one hot market again.

That’s great news for some, not so good for others. If you miss the small community Richmond Hill was 15-20 years ago, then you’re probably not happy. If your livelihood depends on additional rooftops, then you’re likely happy to see more rooftops. Knowing and liking folks in both camps, I’m sort of ambivalent.

But I think it’s worth noting that some of those fussing about growth this time around haven’t lived here all that long, and I’d bet far fewer are natives or, if they are, have roots that stretch back much farther than a generation.

That doesn’t mean their opinion counts less, or that they’re wrong to dislike congestion, but it does mean they’re part of the growth they’re complaining about. It reminds me of a woman on anti-social media who, in a gripe about the slow pace of a road widening project, said they’d have done the same thing much faster up in New Jersey where she was from.

My initial thought was unkind, I admit. Had she and the thousands of other transplants who now reside in this part of the South stayed put, then there wouldn’t be a need for wider roads.

Actually, that’s my same thought now.

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