Did the citizens of Elbert County just fall off the turnip truck….or do they look like they did….especially to our it-doesn’t-matter-what-we-do-or-say-we-call-the-shots developers, Tim Craft and Jim Marshall? Are the citizens actually naive, gullible, inexperienced, and easily fooled…or are the citizens just ignored by the respective governing boards in Elbert County? Or is there perhaps another reason for the quandary we find ourselves in that pits citizens against builders against governing boards…a reason that actually places some of the blame on the citizens’ judgment?
Background that most of the citizens who are paying attention are aware of: a large suburban type development named Independence that has been under construction for several years; a proposal to build 1193 homes (including multi-family projects) north of Spring Valley Golf Club is on the drawing board with the developer “relatively close to making a submittal” per his staff at an October 3, 2022, public meeting; Elizabeth West, a 623 unit development proposed to be located west of Walmart, south of highway 86, was approved by the Elizabeth Town Council (with only one “no” vote) on November 15, 2022; and two subdivisions on the edges of the town of Kiowa currently under discussion. All of these proposals/works in progress are what we in Elbert County consider high density, especially compared to the more spacious, rural feel many of us appreciate in our county.
Without rehashing the issues that current EC citizens continue to point out to county commissioners and town boards, ad nauseam…..lack of water, substandard roads, potential overcrowding of schools, lack of infrastructure, etc., etc., etc., the question here is why are citizens’ views and sentiments basically brushed aside?
One oft-repeated, but so far baseless, threat that the county commissioners and town councils seem to be predisposed to toss out there is, “But we’ll be sued by the developer,” if we don’t cave to their demands! Really? Let’s bring that down to the typical homeowner’s level.
When you bought your property, were there any guarantees in the closing papers that ensured that you could rezone the property any way you wanted? That the county or the town HAD to agree to rezone your land in whatever configuration your grand plans supported? And if the local governing entity put any roadblocks in your path, then by golly, you’re going to sue their socks off….because it’s your real estate…..and property rights, right?
However, we do have something called zoning regulations which are in place to protect and enhance the value of real estate, prevent the incompatibility of land uses that share the same space, and preserve the beneficial uses of natural resources, among many other planning control tools. These zoning regulations are certainly subject to change over the years, but how much change is acceptable? And how much input should citizens have in the “change” that current boards and commissioners seem to be approving at the drop of a hat?
Unfortunately, the developers, for whatever reason, seem to have the upper hand in Elbert County. The current pattern of the governing bodies in EC appears to be to hold only one meeting allowing public comment. Once the word gets out among citizens, and some community organizing occurs related to said development, no more public comment is allowed at any future meetings. It happens at Elbert County Board of County Commissioner meetings and at Elizabeth Town Hall meetings. Do these elected officials all go to the same shut-the-citizen-up training?
So circling back to my original question: where does the responsibility lie for the ongoing conflict/discord/controversy that citizens and builders and governing bodies seem to be sparring about? Are the builders calling all the shots? Do zoning regulations need to better reflect the will of the citizens? Do governing boards need to listen to the citizens who elected them to office?
There seems to be plenty of blame to go around in Elbert County for the “Parker East” high density growth we are experiencing. But perhaps the most effective action empowering citizens to exercise some control (in addition to making the effort to self-educate), is to pay attention to and elect public officials who reflect the vision for our county that the majority of the citizens desire. It’s part of the self-educating equation: study the candidates’ platforms, vote accordingly, and hold the elected officials’ feet to the fire!