Officials say misinformation to blame
County officials are postponing a presentation from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in regard to a “character area” study for the Foothills area.
Officials say the meeting has been pushed back in order to streamline it with the development of a state-mandated five-year county development plan happening later this year. But talk of the proposed character area study already has residents in the area stirred up.
Many Yellow Creek residents have made angry calls to the county planning and development office complaining that implementation of additional zoning requirements would be unfair to property owners there. These officials say, however, that unrest among these residents is by and large a result of misinformation.
The area off of Steve Tate Highway was one of 17 “character areas” identified in the Pickens County Comprehensive Plan prepared by the North Georgia Regional Development Center in 2008.
These areas were identified because they have either unique features that need to be preserved, they have potential for evolution into unique areas, or because they require special attention due to “unique development issues.”
A “character area study,” which would be completed at no charge to the county by a resource team from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, would result in a development plan for the Foothills area that, upon approval from the county, would add new zoning requirements for any future growth within the proposed area’s boundaries, including signage requirements, building setback minimums, parking, landscaping and lighting standards, architectural standards for buildings, and other elements.
At the last Pickens County Planning and Development meeting in December, board member Phil Anderson requested the planning commission ask the county commissioner to approve an application for the DCA resource team to come in and help develop the character area plan for the Foothills area.
The planning commission instead voted to have a DCA representative come and make a presentation to them before they make any recommendation to the commissioner.
This DCA presentation was originally slated to coincide with the February planning commission meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, but officials have postponed the presentation, citing “bad timing.”
“We think it would be much more appropriate that we have [DCA] come at a point in time when [they] can share that not only with the planning commission but many members of this advisory committee that’s going to be formed,” said Pickens County Public Information Officer Norman Pope, who pointed to the state-required update to the County Comprehensive Plan coming in 2013.
With assistance from the NGRDC, committees comprised of residents from all areas of the county will identify accomplishments, ongoing projects, and areas of county development that need to be addressed for this five-year plan.
“That means a lot of the work that’s going to have to be done for that update is going to have to be done in 2012 and the early part of 2013,” Pope said. “One of the things that we want to be included in the update is the fact that we haven’t forgotten about our character areas.
“Our intentions are in the update that we are working towards establishing a model for other character areas that could be used around the county,” he said.
Pope also said waiting until later this year would help alleviate what he says is misinformation surrounding the proposed character area study near Foothills, which would affect 84 parcels of property, half of which is business or highway business, the other half of which is residential or agricultural.
“By going at this slower pace, we will be able to educate a lot of our citizens about what we are attempting, and that is simply, let’s put something together here, and let’s see if it would be feasible and work in a particular area. If it works there, you may be able to take parts of that and look at Hinton, or Jerusalem in the west, or Talking Rock or Tate.”
Both Pope and Anderson say that the county will be sensitive to desires of residents in the proposed area.
“It is imperative in this county that when you are talking about bringing in enhancements and in some cases additional requirements for property owners, you have to make sure it’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Pope said. “The county has no intention of imposing mandates on people that are property owners that they feel like they were imposed on by big government. We’re not going to go there.”
Pope said the majority of angry residents he and the county have talked to, “are being told things that are not anywhere close to being true,” Pope said, “but it has created a little bit of a firestorm.”
One long-time Yellow Creek resident Jim Weaver said he and other area residents are “furious,” about the character area proposition. “I’m upset and disappointed,” Weaver said. “I’ve lived there 63 years. We’ve lived there all our lives, and I don’t want to be part of any character area or of any Big Canoe city.”
In the past, there have been discussions about incorporating Big Canoe.
Many residents in Yellow Creek also complain that, because of board member Anderson’s ties with Big Canoe, they feel the gated community is using its weight to impose additional zoning requirements long-time residents don’t want.
When asked about Anderson’s influence, Pope said the Big Canoe Home Owners Association Vice President originally came forward to the county representing the HOA, and, “based on the fact that the Big Canoe developing company had it in the plans for the Potts development out there, which has a village-type setting, they thought it might be good to look at that area and see if it would tie in with Potts Mountain,” Pope said.
During an interview with Anderson and Pope, Anderson also discussed what he says is the Gibbs Gardens impact.
“The impetus was Gibbs Garden,” Anderson said. “If you go talk to economic development, they recognize that that commercial crossroads may be the most important commercial crossroads in the unincorporated part of Pickens County, because of the Gibbs Garden linkage.”
Gibb’s Garden is a 220-acre botanical garden that some officials say will draw over 8,000 tourists each month.
Pope said Anderson eventually brought the idea to the commissioner to explore the possibilities of developing the character area.
“I was asked to sit in on that meeting, and the commissioner clearly explained that he did not have objections to explore it, so long as Anderson was willing to identify those individuals that would be affected,” Pope said. “Again, the county’s position is that it has to be a win-win for property owners there and that they see some enhanced value from it.”
Anderson echoed these sentiments, saying he and the county did not want to impose unwanted zoning requirements on residents.
Pope noted that he has recommended that Anderson look into reducing the size of the proposed character area, which may appeal more to property owners.
The regularly scheduled planning commission will still take place on Monday, Feb. 13, minus the DCA presentation.
A new date for the presentation will be announced in the future.