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Guest column: A note to those opposing the development in North Bryan
Jeff Whitten may 2017
Jeff Whitten

Jeff Whitten, Contributor.

I can empathize with the folks up in North Bryan, a good number of whom turned out at Pembroke City Hall on Monday to speak out against development. Good for them.

What they’re facing now – and will likely face again and again and again in the near future – has already happened to a lot of us in the Coastal Empire. In Richmond Hill, in Pooler – the poster child for a mess – in Rincon and Port Wentworth and so on.

Peace and quiet got turned into noise and traffic and crowds. And it’s getting noisier and more crowded every day.

Thirty years ago my wife and I lived on a quiet semi-rural road just outside Rincon surrounded by fields, crops and woods. The closest neighbor was half a football field away and hidden behind trees and bushes.

About the most exciting thing to happen to us was when our Chihuahua who thought he was a pit bull got out and went after the cows across the road.

Then developers got hold of parcels here and there around us, buying them off families tired of paying taxes on land they didn’t want to farm anymore. One of the developers who got land right across the street from us was from Richmond Hill, go figure.

Homes sprang up on those parcels beginning in the late 1990s, and by 2000 had filled up with people. Some were good neighbors, others weren’t.

We adapted to what that life was like, a life that included higher taxes because our property’s value went up. It didn’t go up because we’d improved it. We didn’t put in a fancy swimming pool or a barn or anything else that would’ve allowed us to sell it at a higher price.

Nope. The value went up because people from a lot of other places decided they wanted to live in our neck of what used to be woods, and that demand drove up prices, which hiked taxes even when officials said they weren’t hiking taxes. But they couldn’t afford to lower them because more people means local governments have to provide more services and that costs more.

The recession hit in 2008 and before long some of those newer homes got foreclosed on – including one built in 2000 right across the street from us – and our property value fell a bit at assessment time and our taxes went down a little bit, but nowhere near as much as they’d gone up.

Eventually, the recession became history and the developers got back to developing, cramming houses everywhere they could. They’re still at it, and good luck to anyone who tries to slow the vinyl boxes down or at least make sure the residents of the new vinyl boxes pay for the impact they’ll have on the roads, and schools, and other existing infrastructure. And water. And the environment.

Oh, and somewhere between, say, 2015 and now, we learned that there was more to life than living in what had essentially over a decade or so become miles of suburbs bumping one into another.

There was also living among warehouses clustered in what are called “parks,” and so in more recent years we’ve become bracketed by these so-called parks of warehouses, several of which now area within a 3-mile radius of our house.

The resulting truck traffic is obvious and at times jacks up traffic for the rest of us, as if it wasn’t already jacked up on its own.

For a while in recent years, truckers – who are no different than the rest of us – would look for ways to avoid getting snarled up in traffic and take side roads, and wind up in ditches because the roads weren’t configured to handle their size.

And roads that are supposedly off limits to trucks sometimes aren’t, if you know what I mean. Our residential street is supposedly off limits, but nope.

On the bright side, roads through nearby neighborhoods got or are getting widened and “improved” to handle the increased traffic and the dump trucks and transfer trucks and trucks hauling port containers to warehouses, and who cares about the people who live on the road?

Progress as defined by some isn’t about the people already here. It never has been, not in our history. Just look at what happened to Native Americans, who essentially were rezoned off their property and onto reservations in the most brutal way imaginable.

We like to imagine ourselves more civilized nowadays, at least in some ways. Nowadays money talks.

And it’s hard, and sometimes illegal, for local governments to tell a property owner he can’t use his property the way he wants, so long as he meets whatever rules are in place to try to keep things at least somewhat orderly. It puts people like the folks on Pembroke City Council between a rock and a hard place.

Still, Pembroke has done a better job than most of managing growth – though in truth the city hasn’t yet seen the Tsunami of growth that has already submerged Pooler and, some would argue, cities like Rincon and Richmond Hill. Heck, once at a forum on growth in South Bryan a man asked a county official why residents couldn’t sue developers to stop them.

Maybe that’s the answer. A class action lawsuit against developers.

Anyway, barring something unforeseen, I’m afraid growth will eventually swamp North Bryan. It’s only a matter of time. Sad thing is, some will consider it progress. Even sadder, they might be right.

It used to be said that one’s right to swing one’s fist ends at someone else’s nose. That doesn’t apply to what passes for progress swinging its fist these days. It probably never has. The folks in North Bryan are finding that out now, the same way a lot of us found out years ago.

The only way to keep property near you from getting developed is to buy it, and not many of us are in a position to do that.

So maybe the answer to all this is for folks to quit fuming on social media and instead set up a nonprofit and a Gofundme account and raise money to buy land and get it out of the hands of the developers.

I’d make a donation to that. Jeff Whitten is a contributor as well as the former editor of the Bryan County News.

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