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Second unified development code hearing set for May 2
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Bryan County residents will get another chance to weigh in on the county’s new unified development code expected to be finished in December.

This time, the “public input forum” will be held in South Bryan, which is where much of the county’s growth is taking place.

The May 2 event will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the South Bryan Administrative Complex. It follows an earlier forum in North Bryan that drew about 30 people to the Hendrix Park Gym.

There, they spent more than two-and-a-half hours with consultant Michael Lauer and county planners.

Lauer, who’s worked on development ordinances with a number of communities around the U.S., is being paid approximately $97,000 to help Bryan County commissioners come up with a code to replace its interim development ordinance.

That code, known as the IDO, was unanimously adopted by commissioners in October.

It, along with an impact fee ordinance passed in January, prompted a lawsuit filed in February by the Homebuilders Association of Greater Savannah.

An attorney for the homebuilders group asked Superior Court Judge Robert Russell in March to issue a restraining order against the county’s implementation of impact fees, which took effect April 1. The judge refused, and a second, fuller hearing on the suit will be held May 10 in Pembroke.

In the meantime, as the county defends its interim ordinance in court, officials say they want residents to get involved in shaping a permanent replacement.

At the March 28 meeting at Hendrix Park, Lauer spent about half an hour outlining the reason behind the creation of a UDO, which is supposed to govern development.

For starters, the county’s current development guidelines include regulations “scattered in 10 chapters,” that are unclear and lack both infrastructure and design guidance, according to Lauer.

The zoning ordinance also lacks clarity and doesn’t address impacts on traffic. And, Lauer said, the county’s subdivision regulations “foster subdivision instead of neighborhood creation,” and are “costly, inefficient, adversarial, and counterproductive.”

In addition, Bryan County’s subdivision regulations don’t have “internal and external connectivity,” and rely on outdated engineering design standards, among other things, he said.

What’s more, allowing subdivisions to have but one entrance in and out onto a highway such as 144, as is frequent in South Bryan, cam “exacerbate traffic and emergency response standards,” according to Lauer.

He told those at the North Bryan forum county planners want to come up with a flexible code with a mix of mandates and options, in which the county can use incentives and point systems to encourage developers to meet the code’s standards.

Those who attended the forum were broken into five groups and asked to come up with answers to five questions.

They were first asked to decide as groups what they wanted to preserve, both in their neighborhood and in the county, because “like it or not, growth is coming,” one resident said.

The answers varied. But in general, those who participated said they wanted to protect their rural lifestyle. Some asked for large lots, green spaces and places for trees left in place whenever possible, and mature trees planted when not.

Juanita Baker, who spoke for her group, said they want “everything that is traditional” to be preserved.

Arlene Hobbs said her group wanted the “rural feel” of North Bryan preserved. “Protect our agricultural land use, and protect the water table,” she said.

Outdoors hunting and fishing, recreational opportunities, timberland, farmland were also on the list of things worth preserving, according to North Bryan residents.

Asked to give examples of developments in the county they approved of, North Bryan residents listed North Buckhead and Waterways in South Bryan, along with a community center in the works on Grover Hill Road, Hidden Creek phase I and Black Creek Golf Course.

In response to “what are some examples of development the county should avoid,” residents said lot sizes should be no lower than 1 acre per home; keeping new development more than 300 yards from existing property lines, mixing residential and commercial development; strip malls and clear cutting.

Residents also discussed Highway 280, which might be the equivalent of South Bryan’s Highway 144. Truck traffic has long been heavy on 280, which runs from Highway 80 in Blitchton through Black Creek and past Lanier Primary through Pembroke and on into Evans County.

Wrecks can back up traffic for miles and leave drivers at a standstill for hours. More growth could further add to the issues drivers face on 280 and other North Bryan roads.

North Bryan residents were also asked what they wanted to see the UDO accomplish. Those ranged from support for industrial employers such as those located at the Interstate Centre in Black Creek to Baker’s request on behalf of her group that it rename Tar City Road back to Groover Hill Road. She claimed the road was named Tar City as an affront to the African-American community who makes up the bulk of the population there.

Pembroke City Administrator Alex Floyd, who spoke for his table, said the group hopes the new UDO will provide consistency with existing neighborhoods while also making it easier for families to divide and build on private land, empower small businesses and include a tree board and tree ordinance.

Groups also wanted more restaurants and movie theaters and the UDO to address truck traffic.

North Bryan residents said they want to be kept informed and the ordinance be transparent and updated, while also putting infrastructure and schools first even if it meant slowing growth.

Residents said their greatest concerns about the as yet unfinished UDO ranged from “it is already decided on and this is a feel good thing,” to a worry more development will impact rivers and lower water tables, harming people on private wells.

Some were concerned the UDO could mean rezoning and the condemnation of their property; others said they were concerned it will lead to more traffic and overcrowded schools in North Bryan.

One group said they were concerned the UDO would be a one-size fits all document “where the ‘rules’ will be determined by South Bryan,” and, perhaps jokingly, that a UDO will mean “that the lobbyists will sue us.”

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