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A look into the future?
Annexation study may provide a glimpse at 2025
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Last week, the Richmond Hill mayor and council adopted the Richmond Hill Annexation Study. The document, prepared by William Christian & Associates in conjunction with the Richmond Hill Planning and Zoning Department, was released this week.

In addition to showing which outlying parcels of land could be annexed into the city, the document also forecasts the growth of each city department, which will all be forced to grow as the city expands.

Here are some of the suggested figures from the annexation study:

- city limits may increase by 22,618 acres, which would more than double the size of Richmond Hill

- population may increase from 10,750 (today) to 23,000 in 2025

- number of households may increase from 4,300 (today) to 9,700 in 2025

- shows the city increasing by 300 household units per year

- shows the average value of each new home to be $300,000

- shows 2,553 additional school-age children, 25 additional cops and 21 additional firefighters

P&Z Director Steve Scholar said he was pleased with the financial projections the study suggests.

"We knew growth would entail the expansion of each city department," he said. "We wanted to see if the additional growth would pay for it through ad valorem taxes, sales tax and that sort of thing. The study indeed shows that the growth from the annexation will pay for the expanded city services required to support those new residences in the city."

Scholar said there were three main reasons the study was initiated:

- "Rayonier has shown propensity lately to sell off some of their land, so we’re fairly confident that, if and when it comes, the city will be approached to annex."

- To give county officials advance notice of land that may be annexed

- To include the study in the state-mandated Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which is due to be completed this year.

"The bottom line with this study is to prepare for the future," Scholar said. "I just think that if you don’t plan for the future, it can be potentially harmful."

"This is a valuable document that will prove to be a valuable planning tool," city manager Mike Melton said.

Mayor Richard Davis said he is grateful for the study because, while in the process of previous annexations, Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed has asked him for something such as this.

Scholar said current city officials realize growth is coming and this study is part of a proactive approach toward it.

"Based on population studies that were done last year, it looks like this area is going to be very ripe for growth," Scholar said. "That opens up additional land for development. Typically, if you have a one-owner piece of property, the owner will generally sell the land to a developer rather than sell it in chunks. In many cases, that developer will see the benefit of having city water, city sewer and other city services, which will require annexation into the city."

County Administrator Phil Jones said he just received the copies of the study, and the commissioners have yet to review it. He said much of the county land that is shown to be potentially annexed is included in the county’s water and sewer master plan, so there may be a future conflict on that issue. He also said he is a bit skeptical about Rayonier approaching the city about annexation, as Rayonier officials have stated in the past they will not be annexing land into the city.

Of the 22,618 acres shown annexed in the study, Rayonier currently owns 20,885 acres. The only remaining 1,733 acre tract is owned by Carlton Gill.

"It’s too early to comment as we have not received a copy of it yet," said Shannon Thuren, Director of Communications for Rayonier. "I can tell you that we have a history of working well with that community and we look forward to working with them in future endeavors."

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