My first quarter as chairman of the Bryan County Board of Commissioners is coming to an end. I feel honored to be serving in this new capacity and to represent all of you, as well as be the spokesperson and leader for the commissioners. I, as well as the other commissioners, understand that there is significant interest in the plans for growth in our county, especially in regards to building and infrastructure. First, let me say that, like you, I am passionate about Bryan County. Like you, I drive our busy roads every day. Like you, my children attend Bryan County Schools. And like you, I am concerned about the future of the county that we all love to call home. My passion and love for Bryan County drive my desire to help lead us to the best possible future.
I want to give an update on our work during these first few months of 2017. It’s been a busy and productive quarter. This will be the first of many opportunities I plan to share information with you.
Regarding our busy roads, in April of2016 we completed a road capital improvement plan that will address our county’s needs for the next 30 years. We desire to study the future needs and to plan wisely, making sound decisions that will affect our county for decades.
I have also had the opportunity to go to Atlanta and meet with the DOT commissioner and his staff. I have felt privileged to share the Bryan County story and to advocate for our needs. At the meeting with the DOT, we discussed and addressed the growth of our county. The widening of Highway 144 was on the top of the list of concerns. Currently the funding is available and the state is finishing the environmental study of the impact of this widening (the first environmental impact study expired and needed to be completed again, due to the length of time the purchasing of the properties took). Everyone will be pleased to know that the state has given us a projected timeline of March 2018 for when the project will go out for bid.
In addition, the I-95 Interchange has never been closer. The state is on track for a September 2017 project bid date. We continue to be involved in monthly meetings with the state to discuss the plans and timelines.
Also in the works is the update of our comprehensive county plan that includes growth management, land use and infrastructure needs. The plan is a 25-year master plan that is updated every five years. This update is steered by a committee of residents and will be overseen by a professional, experienced planner.
There have been many concerns expressed about the recent approval of the 143 single-family home development at the last commission meeting. That development encompasses 145 acres which results in a density of one home per acre. In fact, the last three developments approved in recent months have an average density of around 1.5 homes per acre. It is important to understand that the county has issued 800 building permits since 2014. During that same period of time, only eight of those permits deviated from single-family homes in the form of townhomes located in the East Buckhead Development (approved in 2005). Much of the growth involving multi-family developments has taken place within the city limits of Richmond Hill. Since 2014, the city has issued 756 residential permits which include 401 multi-family units. We must also remember that development oversite within the city limits is beyond the jurisdiction of the county. Although many may argue that this development is appropriate within the more densely populated municipal boundaries, commissioners are dedicated to a more conservative development plan in the rural, unincorporated areas of the county.
At this time, the Board of Commissioners cannot retract homes or developments that received prior approvals a decade ago. We can only work to make sure the acreage and lot specifications are held to a certain standard. A standard we hope will continue to preserve some of the integrity of our growth.
One of my goals for the near future is to increase communication and dialogue with the city councils of Richmond Hill and Pembroke and with the Bryan County Schools Board of Education. We must work together to coordinate future growth and land use. Both unincorporated South Bryan County and the city of Richmond Hill have seen significant growth. There is also growth, at a more modest rate, in North Bryan County.
We are working on several projects around the county and continue to look at our needs. We are looking into impact fees and a single county T-SPLOST levy for our transportation needs. This will allow us to continue to build our infrastructure.
Please feel free to reach out to me or any of your other elected county commissioners. We are available and happy to talk with you, answer any questions and share updates on what we are doing. We welcome you at any meeting; we’d love your participation. Also, if you are interested in reviewing our comprehensive master plan or our road capital improvement plan, please call the county for an appointment. Those documents are available for you and we are happy to share them. We look forward to continuing to serve you and to working with all of you to shape Bryan County’s future.