I am a native of Savannah. My wife and I moved here from Savannah 17 years ago so, relatively speaking, we are the new kids on the block. I don’t want to see Richmond Hill over developed. There is an old saying. “The last guy to move in wants to be the last guy who moved in.” I am not quite at that point but overdevelopment here is a very real threat that can change our community causing undesirable and irreversible consequences.
I attended a public meeting at the county commission building the other night. The discussion was about planned development in Bryan County. Certainly the county has professional staff but for the commissioners, community planning has to be a learning process. Their forte is butcher, baker and candle stick maker and has nothing to do with community development.
Our commissioners have the monumental task of creating a plan to control growth in the county. A day late and a dollar short but better late than never. I just hope that they are individually sincere in pursuing that goal and not just providing lip service while they hug the developer. The greatest concern is overdevelopment which will be to the detriment of our schools, our infrastructure, our emergency services and our way of life.
I started a list and came up with about 50 building trades, industries and professions that would be directly related to home building in Bryan County. I quit counting at that point. Retail and service industries also benefit from growth. In Bryan County there are hundreds of jobs and millions of dollar involved. There are very few people who do not, at least indirectly, benefit from growth. On the other hand, there are very few people who would not suffer the aftershock of overdevelopment.
I personally like to see new things and new opportunities. On the other hand, beauty can be less in the eyes of the beholder and more in the developer’s bank account. Nothing personal. Just business. How much money can be squeezed out of an acre of land?
A community should have the right to determine just how much growth their community can stand. A large percentage of our population lives here because of our superior school system born from Henry Ford’s influence over 80 years ago. That can disappear in a heartbeat. Broadening the tax base by adding people is a false narrative.
Excepting a private gated community, the ability to actually successfully accomplish fairly and evenly controlled growth can be next to impossible. A community’s money and professional talent is usually in short supply even before they have to start dealing with major developers.
The Savannah Builders Association was well represented at the public meeting by an attorney who proceeded to advise the county commissioners and the citizens present as to what they can and cannot legally do. He assured us that we were violating the law set down by the Georgia State Constitution regarding “Affordable Housing.” I have always been under the impression that it takes a judge, not a special interest attorney, to decide if a law is being broken. The attorney’s veiled threat of a lawsuit was not a hollow one. It is standard operating procedure for developers and something of considerable concern for cash-strapped communities.
After the threat of a lawsuit he attempted to placate us by describing what a wonderful community we had with all of the amenities and how for that very reason we were somehow being selfish to not allow unfettered growth. Code phrase, “Affordable Housing.” The term provides a path to jamming as many houses/apartments/condos on a lot as possible.
That attorney was doing his job and doing it well. His interest is in satisfying his client, not the residents of Bryan County. He used the term “Affordable Housing” several times to lay a guilt trip on those who oppose the very real threat of overdevelopment in Bryan County. Actually the continuous reference to “Affordable Housing” led Angus McLeod to ask an interesting question addressed to the developer, but via the Commission as protocol demands: “Exactly how much does an affordable house cost”? No one seemed to have an answer.
The developer’s attorney complained of what he deemed to be confusion and inaction on the part of the Commission. The County Commission is just not moving fast enough to suit his client. He actually suggested that the Builders Association have a seat at the table in planning the County’s development codes. How generous! Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! Certainly the professional input and the considerable resources the developer could offer would streamline the process but in whose favor? I fear that some of the commissioners seemed to be in favor of that suggestion.
Community leaders are generally ill-equipped to deal with the juggernaut brought to bear by the well- rehearsed and organized developers. The developers have gone thru the same process again and again in communities of every description. It is not their first rodeo. Time is of the essence for them. Get in, build out and get out.
They already know the questions that will be asked and have the answers. They have heard all the objections and have seen all the obstructions before. They know what the next step is going to be before the commission decides what it will be. They pretend compromise. They know what effect the word “sue” can have on a community with limited funds.
They readily join in discussion about irrelevant subjects like setbacks on a garage roofline while they continue along with the ill- conceived and very relevant subject of putting excessive numbers of single family dwellings on a postage sized lot. It’s kind of like the prison guard who watched a guy roll wheelbarrows full of trash out the gate every night and dutifully searched each one for contraband. On his retirement he asked the guy to please tell him what he was stealing because he was sure it was something. It was wheelbarrows. The developer can be masterful in getting us looking in the wrong direction.
The developer can be expected to make maximum use of the land by creating streets too narrow to accommodate an emergency vehicle when there is parking in the street. Any real concern for flood control in our beloved swamp will be absent. They all claim a higher standard and certainly that might be the case. However, the need for planned development, zoning and building codes, building inspections, etc. were established because of a necessity to insure those higher standards be met since obviously they have not always been met.
When asked where the “Hill” part of the City’s name came from, Henry Ford said, “You are in the swamp; if you are not standing in water, you are standing on a hill!” Just off that road is swamp. It is full of water when it rains. We live in the Ogeechee River Basin. Our water tables are getting higher with the passing of time. There seems to be an absence of any real concern for flood control in our beloved swamp. I am not seeing aeriated sedimentation ponds. I do see the readily accepted practice of draining what is probably contaminated surface water into our marshes. No good will come of that.
Another favorite trick of a developer is to demand something that they themselves realize is totally unacceptable. Density of construction is a favorite subject. Six houses to an acre! A hundred apartments! They then appear to honestly negotiate and plead and eventually allow the commissioners to pat themselves on the back when they defeat the proposal, reduce the congestion and give the builder exactly what he wanted in the first place. Still congested just not quite as bad.
When a developer talks about numbers of units on a parcel of land the public may not realize that a considerable part of that parcel will be taken up by access/egress, utility lines, driveways, walkways and required setbacks. Think zero lot lines, fire hazards, crowded streets, crowded schools and depressed values over time.
The Bryan County Commission has a scheduled plan for a two year process to come up with guidelines for a developer. It was described by Commission Chairman Carter Infinger as a “living document” being tweaked on, perhaps, a daily basis. The two year time frame to complete the planning would end about the same time that most of the Commissioner’s terms expire! Interesting. That plan does not satisfy the developer. They want immediate and unfettered access.
I assume that there will be on-going construction while the plan is assembled. That being the case, you will not be able to recognize Bryan County in two years. If the developer sues the county would there be a moratorium placed on any major construction until the case was resolved? That would give the Commissioners a little breathing room.
Rooflines and building materials are not the issue at this point. Too simple to be viable I guess, but it seems to me that if “R” zoning is put in place that requires minimum half acre lots for single family homes it should help prevent the most disturbing problem. Overdevelopment is the issue.
Roy (Hub) Hubbard