I got an email from someone I know on the topic of growth. That person wanted to run it as an anonymous letter to the editor, but since neither his life nor his livelihood are in danger, I nixed that idea. We don’t do anonymous letters to the editor without a compelling reason. That said, I think the email has a lot to say worth thinking about.
So, I’m going to run it here, in the Editor’s Notes. Unexpurgated. Under the pen name Ewell Seymour, because the writer thought that sounded classier than the Rev. Hugh B. Dernwright.
Read on. Go grab a cup of coffee first, because it’s long. Entertaining, but long The only thing we have to fear
“Recently, it seems like more people around here live in fear than ever before and for a region that has weathered epidemics, wars, forced relocation of 1/3rd of the county, droughts, hurricanes, losing football seasons, heat waves, etc., that’s really saying something.
“People who have never darkened the door of a public meeting are now paranoid that the one they miss will be the one where city or county officials unanimously approve the end of western civilization. Mistrust is high, tempers flare and the Richmond Hill Online Yard Sale has a new record number of followers.
“The seemingly paralyzing fear I’m referring to is Fear of Growth. While I realize that I cannot allay all people’s fears, I would like to take this opportunity to address the concerns I have received point by point.
“I do not believe I will make everyone happy but if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be in public service to begin with. May I also mention that my property is currently surrounded by multiple tracts of buildable land that I will never be able to purchase so no one fears new development more than me.
“I have a good neighbor who is not interested in that sort of thing, to the best of my knowledge, but time marches on, the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round and one day I’m afraid I will have to face the inevitable.
“While it’ll be a sad day for me to see those grand old pine trees go, I will adapt. I’ll give myself more than five minutes to drive into town and buy a fence kit from my friends at Storehouse Salvage.
“If after a year or two, I feel like my quality of life has dropped to unspeakable levels and I can no longer subject my family to the hell that is suburbia, I’ll sell out and buy 1,000 acres in Clinch county. I got an invitation to invest in Argentina once but that’s another story.”
Note: Here begins Seymour’s thoughts on what he said he often hears.
“1. Traffic of 50 or 300 or 1,000 more cars will overwhelm our already inadequate infrastructure. We are not prepared, and we shouldn’t allow anyone else to move here until we fix the roads.
“Answer: Bryan County and the cities have already begun to address this problem through the passage of TSPLOST and a 216-page traffic study done by Thomas and Hutton Engineering. The millions of dollars that will be collected over the next few years are earmarked for transportation-based projects guided by this study and periodic GDOT traffic counts.
“It’s very simple: More people equates to more daily trips (traffic count) to town where they spend more money and 1 penny of every dollar stays in Bryan County to fund infrastructure.
“Here’s the real kicker. If an online company has a certain “level of presence” in a state, they pay local sales tax. So as people buy more on Amazon from their couches they’re paying TSPLOSt and the only vehicle using the road is one delivery truck! Traffic is an inevitable part of life, but we can respond and take proper measures by studying impact, implementing projects and funding to back them up.
“2. Children are sitting on the floors of the school buses. Our schools are bursting, we have no plan to build more and the quality of education will decline with growth.
“Answer: As a parent, this concerned me greatly. I take the safety of schoolchildren extremely seriously and I feel like that same care should be applied everywhere.
“After I saw this same bus statement numerous times, I contacted Dr. Brooksher and asked him point blank were children sitting in the floor of the bus. His response was that there were enough buses making enough trips for elementary students to occasionally require three to a seat and middle and high students two to a seat. I’m not saying a child has never sat in the floor of a bus but according to him it is never out of necessity. The Bryan County Board of Education takes bus riders safety very seriously and would never intentionally endanger a child by denying them a proper bus seat. They are aggressively buying buses ($72,000 each I might add) and retiring the older fleet when possible all the while dealing with a nationwide shortage of drivers.
“The economy has gone up, companies are taking their extra money from tax breaks and investing in their trucking fleet and raising salaries making the private market far too attractive to bus drivers. This issue is at least partially addressed by the recent capital projects bond sale, part of the proceeds of which will be used to buy buses.
“On the second point, some schools are filling up faster than anticipated but that’s why the Board of Education has spent an unprecedented amount of time, money and effort building and planning school buildings that are expandable with wings and corridors. Bryan County also passed ESPLOST meaning that 1 penny of every sales tax dollar goes to schools and capital projects. As more people spend money locally, reserves go up and projects keep pace with growth.
“The final concern about school size having a negative effect on the quality of education a student receives is absolutely ludicrous. Yes, a student may not know every other student’s grandparents and there is a lot to be said for small, tight-knit school communities. However, one trip to the CTAE programs at a large high school shows the benefits of large resources available to students in larger schools. People move to Richmond Hill in droves because of their schools, not to get away from them. Anyone who would “pull up the ladder” and deny children the benefits of a high-quality education simply because they didn’t want more neighbors is simply being selfish.
“3. Board members, Commissioners and others are getting kickbacks and lining their pockets by rubber stamping plans for every developer that walks through the door.
“Answer: I’ll be called everything under the sun, but I will not see these ladies and gentlemen accused of taking any kind of kickback from anybody. I consider that theft from the taxpayer and if there’s two things I cannot stand its University of Florida fans and thieves. Personally, I serve this community with my time, my resources and my gas because I want to; not because some slick developer owns my vote. I take these accusations or any accusation of the kind against my friends and colleagues as a sign of ignorance, paranoia and conspiracy-theorist mentality.
“4. Developers and the PnZ Board disregard protections of wetlands and protected natural areas.
“Answer: While the PnZ Board does not control wetland jurisdiction, anyone who puts a shovel in a wetland without notebooks full of permits and documentation from state and federal governments will be slapped with fines and prosecution before the sun sets. While I take them seriously, I don’t have to; because people with worlds more power than me take it even more seriously and have teeth to back it up. For my part, I keep a copy of the Bryan County Soils Survey on my desk and evaluate every property based on permeability and fitness of soils because I don’t want your house sinking or your drain field flooding any more than you do.
“5. Larger lot sizes are the only way to control density. “Answer: From a simple mathematical perspective, I suppose that’s true. If we were all forced to live on 5 acre lots, I suppose there could only be 128 of us per square mile.
“Believe it or not, however, there are an astounding number of people who do not want 4.9 acres of yard. There are millions of people across this country who would rather sit inside in the air conditioning than mow grass and some of them would like to live in Bryan County.
“Would we rather have 20 kids on a five-mile long road each playing in their own yard or would we rather have 100 kids who live within walking distance of Hendrix or Henderson Park? Or Bryan County or McAllister Elementary School? “There is a time and place for large lots and a time and place for small lots and that time and place are dictated by the market, not the whims and preferences of a board. Theoretically, we could deny every developer who presented a plan for lots of less than an acre, but my sense of civic duty ends with the threat of lawsuits.
“If you don’t think it can happen, do some research. Developers know the law and have better attorneys than this ol’ boy.
“6. We are a few subdivisions away from being Pooler and I bought my property to get away from Pooler. New developments therefore cheat me out of my investment.
“Answer: I bought a car in 2008 because I never wanted to be without reliable transportation again. I cannot refuse to acknowledge that things have happened to that car in 13 years. The price of gas, tires, parts, insurance and labor has fluctuated and the circumstances surrounding that car have changed. I do not however blame Ford Motor Company for changes beyond my control. I have two options: I can take care of my car or I can sell it and hopefully overcome circumstances associated with time and change.
“Disclaimer: I have never bought or owned a home. A relative died, I graduated college that same year, moved into their home and will live there with my family hopefully forever or perhaps until I win the lottery. However, I realize the incredible, once in a lifetime for many, investment a home represents. I also acknowledge that unless you are willing to buy it all, you run a risk of having a neighbor or several.
“The owner of adjoining property has just as many rights as you have and unless you can prove direct and immediate threat to your livelihood based on their actions, they may exercise those rights. The benefit to you, in many cases, is that development has a direct correlation to property value and if you choose to leave your neighbors and sell your home, you are in a better position to do so. You may move to an area with 128 people per square mile but do not complain about the small schools, the dying downtown, the lack of entertainment options or the poor condition of streets.
“7. Last One: Subdivisions threaten to erode and destroy our agriculture, our silviculture, our rural character and our small-town way of life.
“This argument hits me the hardest because I believe it to a degree. The same “hilltops” and stable, permeable soils that are good for agriculture are good for homes. A pine tree will grow just about anywhere but much of our area is owned by timber companies who are not in the farming business meaning much agriculture grade soil is covered in trees also.
“I attended a presentation by a prominent timber company with a presence in Bryan County. They, like many timber companies, have been in business since the early 1900’s when marginal land was cheap because the only thing it would grow was a pulp-grade pine tree. They evaluated all their holdings on the east coast and found two ‘hot-spots’ where it would benefit the company to transition those holdings from timber production to real estate.
“Those hot-spots were south Bryan County, Georgia and Nassau County, Florida (between the state line and Jacksonville). Company B in north Bryan, realizing the benefits that Company A was reaping in south Bryan, has begun to make some changes also. Because they are in the timber business in the rest of the world, they transition through established developers and homebuilders.
“As I said in my intro, I’d be perfectly content to live in bucolic serenity surrounded by the whispering pines for the remainder of my days but, I realize you cannot grow $0.82 per pound cotton or $18 per ton pulpwood on $10,000-$40,000 per acre land with taxes to prove it. Even with residual income, like pine straw and hunting leases, its simply not feasible forever.
“Bryan County, especially North Bryan, has been blessed with this lifestyle longer than most places on the East Coast and several generations of my family here have enjoyed it. While I want my children to enjoy the blessings of life here that his forefathers worked so hard to build, his Bryan County will look as different from mine as mine looks from my fathers, etc. if not more so.
“The best that I can do for him is ensure that those differences are held to the highest standard possible. This is why the Planning and Zoning Board is working with consultants to build a development ordinance that holds builders and developers to higher design and implementation standards.
“The days of sacrificing our finite amount of buildable land for vinyl McHouses that fall apart in 10 years are officially over. With the implementation of these design standards, Bryan County will become the standard that others look up to; not the place that builders go when their product won’t pass anywhere else.
“These standards do not apply everywhere, however, and they will be enforced only on land designated as residential or commercial in the future land use map portion of the comprehensive plan. This map and plan is created every 10 years to direct development but can be amended any time by public hearings giving the people every opportunity to offer input and direction. Land that remains designated agricultural/ silvicultural on the land use map will remain just that and help our beloved rural culture to survive to the next generations.
“As to our small-town way of life, it is my belief that residential development fosters economic growth. As evidence, one only has to look at the dozens of dead and dying small towns who resisted growth and forced residential customers to build and shop elsewhere. With more consumers passing through buying things like milk, bread, gas, etc that the internet can’t yet provide, small businesses thrive. When a business community thrives, it is encouraged to reinvest in its own city through charities, arts, private-public partnerships, revolving funds, scholarships, etc both for tax advantages and a desire to see their city succeed further.
“Some things have changed, and we may not be hauling wagonloads of cotton to the depot any more, but the Georgia Port Authority, Fort Stewart, Georgia Southern University and Black Creek Industrial Park aren’t going anywhere meaning Pembroke will remain a vital crossroads for years to come.
“Now, my advice. If you don’t want it; quit reading.
“A. Attend meetings, real honest-to-God meetings, not just Facebook gripe sessions. “Well they’ve never listened to me before!” Keep coming. Make it a point. When you get to the meeting don’t just sit there with that sour “I want to spit in your eye” look some folks are famous for. Get up, shake a hand, get to know “those people.” Tell them your concerns and talk this thing out.
“B. Pressure your elected officials to push for Impact Fees county- wide. I fought to get them when unincorporated South Bryan got them and I didn’t because I’m not a Commissioner…yet. Make these developers pay out the nose for your quality of life and they will think twice before bringing large projects here. Make them (not you) improve the shoulders on Wilma Edwards Road. Your quality of life is valuable so put a value on it.
“C. Run for something or get on a board. If you think your so-and-so is doing such an all-hellfire job and running this county in the ground, than you do it. You. You spend days, nights, weekends or longer away from your paying job to sit through the process. You miss your kids ballgame or supper with your wife for a public hearing. You forfeit the right to eat lunch uptown in peace for the next four years because someone has a stray dog in their yard or their trash hasn’t been picked up or the road grader hasn’t been by their house this week. You, get blasted on social media for following Georgia law and keeping the taxpayer from paying lawsuits and court costs.
“You sit in church with little old ladies staring holes through your soul because there’s a neighborhood coming near them. It’s a rewarding, satisfying and educational experience.
“If this still doesn’t convince you, let me throw you one more point.
“District 2 is split between a piece of North Bryan and a piece of South Bryan. Currently, the South Bryan portion is growing faster than the North Bryan portion. If the South Bryan portion decides to field a candidate and wins, the Commission will be a 1-4 split instead of the 2-3 it is currently. If you think you don’t get a fair shake now, wait until you have no bargaining power at all.
“The only hope is to allow enough growth to maintain the status quo. Yes, you may get some new neighbors, and you better hope to God they vote like you, but they’re not going to if you keep trashing them.
“I know everyone gets tired of hearing it, but I’ve always said you can be on the right track and still get hit by a train. We’re doing our best to dig in our heels and grit our teeth, but growth is a train. It’s coming and the best that we can do is prepare, set guidelines, make friends with the engineer and the passengers.
“Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. Thank you for subscribing to this newspaper. “Finally, Thank you for being a actively involved citizen of Bryan County.”
Editor’s note: Thanks for the email.