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County leaves new subdivision issue in limbo

Tia Lynn Ivey Featured, News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

Managing Editor

County leaders cannot decide on how to best regulate the development of future residential subdivisions. Despite passing a 90-day moratorium back in October to craft new regulations aiming to curb “problematic” development designs and density concerns, the county commissioners want more time to tweak the proposed changes for another six weeks, leaving new subdivisions in limbo. 

The hesitation comes down to controversial divide between those who want to preserve Morgan County’s rural character and those who want to protect property owner rights.  

New residential subdivisions cannot move forward for development in Morgan County as the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted Tuesday, Jan. 19 to extend the moratorium on subdivision developments again for another 45 days — until March 2. The meeting was well-attended by concerned citizens who turned out to voice their opinions on subdivision development regulations, most of whom opposed the newly-proposed regulations.  

“They don’t want regulations,” said Steve Powell, an Atlanta developer, about county property owners who attended the public hearing. “You would be taking people’s assets and devaluing it. And that’s a problem I think for the people in this room.” 

The commissioners have been mulling over newly-proposed regulations for subdivisions to gain stricter control over the process after several subdivisions built in the county raised eyebrows due to the design, density, and close proximity to county roadways. 

“It’s becoming a real problem,” said Chairman Philipp von Hanstein at a previous BOC meeting. However, county commissioners are attempting to walk a fine line between preserving Morgan County’s rural character and protecting individual property rights. 

Commissioners originally instituted a moratorium to prevent new subdivisions from being built before the county passes new standards. 

The BOC has held two public hearings on the proposed regulations, which would, among other things, increase required set backs and buffers, as well as increase minimum lot-sizes for incoming residential subdivisions. After significant public feedback, the commissioners opted to extend the moratorium on residential subdivision developments instead of voting on the proposed regulations Tuesday night. 

The public expressed mixed feelings about the issue—with some supporting the new regulations, some wanting the regulations to go even further to restrict residential subdivision development, but the majority of public commenters at the last public hearing were vehemently against the county cracking down on development projects through stricter regulations. One county citizen, Doug Roberts, called the new regulations “the biggest socialist grab I ever could have conceived of,” and rebuked county officials, telling them to “get their act together” and that they should be most concerned about protecting property owner rights. “I am bitterly opposed to anyone trying to take away my property rights.” 

The county imposed a 90-day moratorium on all subdivision development projects back in October, to give county staff time to development new regulatory standards for residential subdivisions. In early January, Director of Planning Chuck Jarrell first presented the proposed regulations aiming to curb unwanted subdivision developments and giving the county stricter control over the process of approved subdivisions. The regulations have been posted on the county’s website for the public to review at www.morganga.org. The revisions to the proposed changes have also been updated and posted on the county’s website. Jarrell presented an updated version at the Jan. 19 public hearing for commissioner to consider. 

The proposed regulations set out standards for the Agriculture Residential (AR) Zoning District, the Agriculture (AG) Zoning District, and the Low Density Residential (R1) Zoning District, increasing minimum lot size requirements, limiting the number of developable lots, increasing road frontage setbacks and buffers and requiring more greenspace to be preserved permanently for new subdivision developments projects. Any subdivision developments in AG must have a minimum of 5-acre lots, the proposed regulations called for 20 acres, but the commissioners debated whether or not that was an appropriate requirement. The new regulations would also limit road frontage subdivisions to no more than three lots. This is another point the commissioner debated last Tuesday. 

Jarrell pointed to recent subdivision developments along Brownwood Road, Fears Road, and Sandy Creek as evidence of the recent high-demand for new residential subdivisions in the county and that presented problematic elements. The moratorium postponed at least five potential subdivisions projects in the works.

Most of the controversy centers around the requirements for subdivisions in the AR zones of the county. 

“The comments I have received on AG subdivisions, some thought 20 acres was too large, other didn’t think it was large enough. Some thought 420 feet road frontage was unreasonable and should be reduced,” explained Jarrell about some of the main objections to the newly proposed regulations.  Jarrell suggested extending the moratorium to the county commissioners. 

“People want us to extend the moratorium to make sure we get this right,” said Jarrell, who pledged to revise the proposals based on the county commissioners’ direction. “I don’t want to rush it.”

After listening to more public input at last Tuesday’s public hearing, the commissioners asked for more time to tweak the proposals and consider the best options for new regulations—hoping to balance individual property rights and preserve the rural character of Morgan County. County leaders said they want to retain the rural feel of Morgan County and ensure that new residential developments do not become too dense or impede upon nearby existing property owners who favor minimal developments near their homes. County commissioners voted to extend the moratorium on all new residential subdivisions another 45 days. 

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