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County: Questions remain over city annexation

POSTED: October 24, 2017 1:27 p.m.
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This map shows the proposed 5,000 acres, in yellow, for annexation into the city of Richmond Hill. The areas in red show current city land while the areas in green are unincorporated Bryan County.

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Bryan County officials are urging residents to make their opinions known over a proposed annexation that would add about 5,000 acres to the city of Richmond Hill.

The Richmond Hill City Council on Oct. 17 unanimously approved the first step in an application from Raydient Places + Properties to begin the annexation process. The land is owned by Rayonier and includes three parcels along Belfast Keller Road, Belfast River Road and Harris Trail.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 27 at city hall during the city’s Planning Commission meeting. A prepared statement from the county said the annexation “could be costly” to the county.

“Please, just show up and voice your opinions at the forum — good or bad,” Commissioners Chairman Carter Infinger said in the county’s statement. “We do want to move forward in the process, but we absolutely have got to thoroughly investigate the positive and the negative benefits of this annexation and see what’s best for all our citizens in the county.”

The annexation would increase the size of the city roughly 65 percent, taking it from 14.6 square miles to 22.4 miles.

While Bryan County commissioners acknowledge there are advantages to the annexation, officials say they wish they had been consulted earlier in the process.

“The county came in at the end of the process, though we wish that had not been the case,” Infinger said. “We’ve got to be strategic and do what’s right, but it’s got to all be a positive thing. We have to approach this responsibly and really weigh the consequences because there’s a lot at stake here, speaking from a financial point of view and taking into consideration what kinds of affects the annexation could have 10 to 20 years from now.”

Infinger noted that city residents are also county residents and that “It is vital that infrastructure is in place and that tax dollars are used wisely whether by the county or the city.”

In a recent guest column for the Bryan County News, City Councilman Russ Carpenter noted that: “Any required notification to the Bryan County Board of Commissioners was given in a timely and legal manner” and that the Oct. 17 vote was just the first step in a long process.

The county’s statement said it is “committed to working in collaboration with the city to reach a resolution that is fair to residents, allows for managed and organized growth, minimizes financial challenges, and retains Bryan County’s integrity and reputation as an economically vibrant location option for industry.”

Carpenter’s column said that while the county had previously approved development on the land in question, “Their plans allowed for many more homes and did not address, as well, impact on roads and schools, in my opinion.”

Carpenter also said of the relationship between the city and county that “We are not ‘feuding,’ as many would have you believe,” and noted that the two entities are working together on several projects, including the widening of Highway 144, the new I-95 interchange at Belfast Keller Road, a new library and attraction of industrial park tenants. 

You can read his full column at http://www.bryancountynews.com/section/3/article/51081/.

More details about the annexation can be found at http://www.bryancountynews.com/section/101/article/51037/.

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