At a recent gathering of government officials, a state lawmaker said Richmond Hill was poised to be the next Pooler — an apparent reference to both cities rapid growth.
Pembroke, on the other hand, moves at a much slower pace.
With a population of about 2,800, the county seat hasn’t experienced the decade plus of booming residential growth impacting South Bryan and surrounding counties.
In part, that’s due to location. Pembroke, much like other rural towns away from Georgia coast, has tended to stay the same over the years as people look for places near the water.
That’s a mixed blessing for Pembroke officials, who say they want growth but not too much and not at any cost.
Residents echo similar sentiments. They want more opportunities to shop and play, but don’t want the population growth retailers demand to set up shop.
Figuring out a balance isn’t always easy. But part of the process is a state-required comprehensive growth plan, due every 10 years. Pembroke recently completed its plan.
A scantly attended public hearing to unveil the finished product was held Monday, and the document was sent to the Coastal Regional Commission Tuesday.
Once it’s approved, officials hope to use it as a guide for future decisions.
"We look forward to implementing these guidelines as we move Pembroke forward," said Pembroke City Administrator Alex Floyd "We thank the community and our partner jurisdictions and agencies for their input and support."
A copy of the plan will be on the city’s website once it’s approved, Floyd said.
"The plan in a nutshell is to retain the character and environment that makes Pembroke special while implementing changes in areas like ‘retail readiness,’ senior housing, youth activities, street repair rotation and utilities expansion," Floyd said, adding there’s a caveat in an appeal to voters.
"A lot of this plan is dependent on the passage of T-SPLOST, so please inform yourself on the issue and vote on May 22," he said.
Perhaps because Pembroke is a small town still largely unaffected by the region’s growth spurt, many people tend to not only know one another, but also know their parents, grandparents and cousins. Floyd – a seventh generation Pembrokian himself – said public input through both an online survey and from residents who weigh in on city affairs has helped shape the document.
"I have a unique job in that I have around 2,800 bosses in the city of Pembroke," he said. "I want them to please call anytime with any issue and we’ll work through it together."
The survey says
No survey’s perfect. But the required online survey Pembroke conducted for a few weeks up until mid-March, though it got only 79 responses, showed residents are far from united on where they want the city to go. It also showed those who live outside Pembroke also feel they have a stake in the town.
Less than half of the respondents actually lived within the city limits, though most lived within a few miles.
In response to the question, "What is your favorite thing about Pembroke?" responses ranged from "The schools" to "Small town you can still walk downtown any time, people speaking or nodding when they see you, no hustle bustle …" and "Small town safe and great sense of community."
When asked what their least favorite thing was about Pembroke, the answers routinely pointed to the city’s lack of entertainment options for kids and adults, jobs, shopping and business support, save two respondents who pointed out their "water bill" and "taxes."
The survey then asked, "What type of development would you like to see in Pembroke," and while more than half said "small commercial" there were a sizeable number who wanted more large commercial business and light industrial in town.
One survey taker wanted a Walmart, another asked for a movie theater, hospital and passenger train. Two objected to subdivisions entirely.
Despite recent attempts in Pembroke to add affordable "workforce" housing, officials say there’s still a need for more. More than 60 percent of those who took the survey said the best way to address that is to "rehabilitate blight or substandard housing."
And one respondent didn’t want any more housing.
"Keep as is. Discourage people from moving in."
The survey also asked how residents would encourage more commercial growth. The majority of those who responded, more than 45 percent, wanted smaller commercial areas throughout the city. Some 35 percent of those who responded wanted development of new "central commercial areas," in Pembroke.
In response to the question, "how would you improve our parks, green-space and natural areas," the majority split over the creation of more small parks, greenways and walking trails. A handful wanted none of it, preferring more money was spent on street repairs.
There also was a question with regard to what should be spared from development. The town’s historic downtown was the top vote getter with 50 percent of those saying it should be spared. Historic neighborhoods were next with 47 percent of the vote, while wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife habitat also rated highly.
Not everyone was on board, however. More than six percent of the voters answered, "None, we want to be the next Pooler."
That question prompted one voter to respond "I will leave if we become Pooler!" and another to respond "Common sense development. There is a happy medium between today’s Pembroke and Pooler."
Up next, the survey asked "What do you think is holding Pembroke back?"
More than half those who took the survey said "lack of commercial/retail/spending opportunities," and "Lack of industrial job opportunities."
The county’s schools also took a hit, with 21 percent saying "lack of quality school options," in Pembroke. Nineteen percent said there as a lack of available healthcare.
In the "other" category, one survey taker responded "Richmond Hill," while others pointed to the difficulty in being unique and the lack of entertainment.
To the prompt "Pembroke needs to create more opportunities for?" more than 72 percent said families was the top response. Youth, seniors and low income residents also got plenty of votes.
When asked which city events survey takers had attended, more than 90 percent said the Christmas parade, followed by Pembroke’s fall festival, its community flea markets, its Easter egg hunt and Memorial Day observances, in that order.
In addition, more than half those who took the survey said they patronized most of the city’s downtown business.