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Perception of safety a big reason for city's growth
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Note: This is the second in a series of stories on the State of the Community.

Richmond Hill turned 60 earlier this month, having grown by leaps and bounds since it was incorporated on March 3, 1962 – from fewer than 1,000 residents in the 1970 census to more than 16,000 in 2020.

That growth “didn’t just start 10 years ago,” said City Manager Chris Lovell during the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce’s fourth “State of the Community” Breakfast held March 3 at the City Center, noting there have been many responsible for the city’s growth by more than 70 percent since the last census in 2010, and in the years before that.

And then Lovell, who was appointed city manager in 2012, gave credit to something that doesn’t always get credit when it comes to the city’s rapid expansion or growth in general.

“I think one reason so many people come here is Richmond Hill is a safe community,” he said, before giving a “shout out,” to the city and county’s public safety personnel and then getting into the city’s efforts to handle growth.

Those range from the 2021 opening of the Belfast Keller interchange at Exit 82 and the Great Ogeechee Parkway, which is opening thousands of acres of land the city annexed in 2017 to development on land owned by Rayonier’s real estate development arm, Raydient Places + Properties, to efforts to solve current traffic headaches, including the I-95 north off ramp to Highway 17 at Exit 87, as well as the accident-waiting- to-happen intersections on 17 at Ponderosa Road and Harris Trail.

Lovell listed a number of Special Local Option Sales Tax expenditures, which included the purchase of police and fire vehicles, the extension of First Street, improvements to playground equipment and bathrooms at J.F. Gregory Park, ongoing work at Boles Park and improvements at Sterling Creek, drainage improvements in Richmond Heights, the study of flood gates on Sterling Creek and improvements to Rosemont Street.

The city’s also worked to bring in business, Lovell said, through a variety of mean. Those include efforts to streamline the business permit process and make it faster and easier to navigate, providing grants for façade improvements through the Downtown Development Authority and having a transparent unified development ordinance.

Richmond Hill’s work on its first tax allocation district, which would encompass much of the commercial districts along Highway 17 and Highway 144 and the interchanges at exits 87 and 90, was also briefly highlighted.

The tax districts would help fund infrastructure improvements there without burdening property owners elsewhere, the city said.

Lovell also mentioned the city’s efforts to preserve its downtown through both the DDA and its work to become a certified local government for historic preservation and its guidelines for its historic district.

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