More than 100 people attended Monday night’s forum to discuss growth — particularly in South Bryan County — and learn more about what county officials are doing to plan for it.
The two-hour meeting was held at the County Administrative Complex, 66 Capt. Matthew Freeman Drive, and included presentations by staff and consultants the county has hired to help guide the planning process.
“We want to make sure people know the county is taking the necessary steps,” Commissioners Chairman Carter Infinger said. “This is something that impacts our schools, our roads and our quality of life. We want this to be a livable, workable and prosperous place.”
The county used the forum to roll out the work it is undertaking on updating its 10-year comprehensive plan, which is due to the state’s Department of Community Affairs next spring. The process will include public meetings and focus groups on both ends of the county as officials try to determine what types of planning and zoning codes are necessary to handle the addition of some 300 new homes per year.
One topic of dissension at the meeting was that of PUDs, or planned unit developments. Subdivisions with houses numbering in the thousands have been approved by the county in the past both off of Oak Level Road and along the Belfast River and Belfast Keller corridor.
Several people spoke out against them, voicing concern about the influx of people and vehicles, as well as the impact on school enrollment.
Eric Greenway, the county’s planning and zoning director, said he is researching the various PUDs in relation to state law regarding how long the agreements are valid.
Developers, on the other hand, are concerned that their property rights might be impacted.
“Those were approved 10 or more years ago based on a different development character,” Greenway said. “We’re looking at how long they can remain in place without any construction taking place.”
Traffic was also an issue of concern, especially the new interchange on I-95 at Belfast Keller Road and the widening of Highway 144. Infinger assured attendees that both projects are on track and bids should be sought for them this fall and next spring, respectively.
County Administrator Ben Taylor explained that along with the comprehensive plan update is a capital improvement plan to deal with infrastructure, public safety and recreation.
Money for those projects will come from a variety of sources, including SPLOST (special-purpose local option sales tax) that will be on the November ballot.
Taylor said the county also is working to implement impact fees on new construction. A portion of that money will go toward paying the county’s share of funding for the new interchange, as well as expanding its sewer and water services.
Taylor said a tap fee for water service of between $8,000 and $9,000 could be assessed that would help pay for expanding water service, while monthly usage fees would pay for system maintenance.
“It’s not that much difference in cost than putting in septic and well, and it helps lower the ISO rating which saves money on your home owners insurance,” he said. “It’s more than just dollars and cents.”
There was also talk about asking voters to approve a T-SPLOST measure next spring. The levy would generate some $33 million over its cycle and the money would be earmarked for road improvements. Officials say about $24 million would be collected from non-Bryan County residents, primarily at exits 87 and 90 on I-95.
About 100 people attended a similar town hall in July hosted by the Richmond Hill City Council, where the message from the audience was that they wanted to see more cooperation between the city and county on growth issues.
To that end, Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler and Councilmen Russ Carpenter and Johnny Murphy attended Monday night’s forum.
Several in the audience also commented that the increased growth is putting a strain on Bryan County Schools, which is expected to see an increase of more than 3,500 students over the next decade. School officials are planning to build a new elementary, middle and high school in South Bryan over the next six years.
Although they did not comment, Superintendent Paul Brooksher and Board of Education Vice Chair Karen Krupp both attended the forum. Greenway said county planners are working with the school district on the locations of the new schools.