While the Coastal Comprehensive Plan draft, released in October, will set standards for counties in the coastal region, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) says most areas are already meeting the minimum requirements.
The DCA and Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center (CGRDC) met with county and city officials on Tuesday, Dec. 11, to discuss the draft and what it means for the future of Georgia, which Mike Gleason of the DCA compared to as ‘the uncut hope diamond.’
"You can cut that thing and if you do it professionally, you’ll end up with the hope diamond. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a bunch of shards that really aren’t worth a whole lot," he said. "As growth and change occurs, we really need to treat Georgia like the precious stone that it is…we think this plan is making major strides in the right direction."
The plan’s project director, Adriane Wood of the DCA, said the Coastal Comp Plan is the ‘guinea pig’ for the new regional planning standards. It is the first of its kind in Georgia, and will eventually grow to encompass plans for each region of the state.
After Gov. Sonny Perdue made an executive order in February 2005 to create the plan, a 34-member Coastal Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee (CCPAC) was created to work on it. Local committee members included County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed and Development Authority Director Jean Bacon, as well as a number of groups such as the DCA, the CGRDC and conservancy groups.
"As we moved through the process, the plan emerged as one that really focused on incentives and rewards, rather than penalties," Wood said. "We stressed Best Management Practices (BMPs) and development throughout the coast; we looked at other planning efforts and, going back to the incentives and rewards, we also looked to do more coordination, rather than a regulation, of activities and efforts that are ongoing for the coast."
For incentives and rewards, the plan established thresholds for local governments to meet and exceed as they continue to develop the coastal region.
Teresa Concann, who works with Wood, said once the plan is set into motion, local governments will have a three year ‘grace period’ to achieve all the minimum standards. Points are awarded for each standard met by jurisdictions.
Wood said the standards list will work on a point level determined by the CGRDC. The way it works now in the current audit, 38 points must be reached to get into the excellent standard bracket, which goes up to 52 points. To reach the minimum standards, 32 points must be achieved.
What the DCA has found since they started meeting with each of the counties and cities involved to see where they’re at, is that many already meet the minimum standards – some have even met excellent – with ordinances already in place.
"In the last year, a great deal of work has been done towards quality growth planning in every jurisdiction we’ve met," Concann said, noting they have one left to meet with. "Bryan County just recently broke through the charts and you’re at the top now; because of the types of development regulations you’ve been adopting at the county level, and that’s just great."
Concann said when the standards were created in the plan, they didn’t really know what to expect. In subsequent audits of the plan, standards will need to rise higher to encourage quality growth in very specific ways, she said.
"Right now we grade out pretty high because of all the revisions and changes to our county ordinances," County Administrator Phil Jones said. "They have some good things in those documents and several things I thought might be fairly good. We’ll look at the things that would enhance our own ordinances or subdivisions and the board will choose what they want to implement."