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Editorial: You get to help choose Hall's future

Residents can review plan, sound off to help guide county’s growth 20 years down road

POSTED: May 12, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Growth is a word that creeps its way onto the front page of this paper nearly every day in some form or fashion, and one that occupies much of the discussion in local halls of government each day.

Depending on its context, growth can be good or bad. If your doctor uses the word, it’s likely not pleasant. If you’re a contractor, real estate agent or developer, it keeps groceries in your fridge. If you’re a Hall County elected official, business owner or resident, facing growth and responding to its realities is a regular aspect of life.

And whether you’re unhappy or delighted with the direction it’s going, you have a chance to sound off.

On Thursday, Hall County will hold an open house to accept public comments on its proposed new comprehensive growth plan aimed to lay out 20 years of future growth ideas.

The plan, last revised in 2005, serves as a road map for infrastructure and where and how growth should be managed through zoning decisions. Those moves over time affect transportation, sewer and water, housing, parks and greenspace, every aspect of community life.

The plan will be available for review next week, then open for discussion at Thursday’s meeting in the Board of Commissioners room at 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville.

Part of that effort was a community survey seeking to find out what residents like and don’t like about Hall, where they would like it to be in 20 years, whether the current growth management practices are getting us there and what areas are best or worst for future development. The answers are detailed and enlightening, and express a wide spectrum of sharp opinions, exactly what officials need to make the right choices.

Most of us have seen examples in metro Atlanta where such growth was poorly managed, resulting in short-term periods of choking gridlock, massive construction, and schools and infrastructure struggling to keep up with increased demand for services. Years later, those counties and cities may find themselves stuck with crumbling retail outlets, empty schools and an imbalance in the tax digest that punishes homeowners who haven’t yet fled for greener pastures.

Growth can be a welcome challenge in an area like ours with a fertile economy that encourages it. But left unchecked, it can become an out-of-control beast that spreads like kudzu where it’s not wanted. The key is to lay the right groundwork ahead of time to stay two steps in front of it.

That’s the goal of the comprehensive plan: To anticipate, as best as possible, what kind of growth is coming, where it is headed and plan for it. Or, in some cases, steer it elsewhere or turn it down completely, knowing every venture doesn’t bring an upside. Along with that is carefully managing the natural attractions of our woodlands, waterways, historic sites and small-town living that drew people here in the first place.

It is no easy task for city and county planners to peer into their crystal balls and anticipate what’s coming. And that’s why they need your help to chime in on what you want Hall County to look like in 20 years.

Should Hall become a new commercial mecca bursting with retail centers, outlet malls and other shopping attractions? A business and manufacturing hub with more office space, plants and warehouses? A bedroom community where more people live than work, commuting to jobs elsewhere? Or the right blend of each?

One of the challenges each option brings is affordable housing. If more jobs are desired, those workers need homes that are within their means. Many feel the county lacks options for middle-income folks who can’t pay for a massive lake house but also want more than cramped apartments to raise young families. Modest single-family homes, condos and apartments would fill the bill, but how best to attract them?

Another issue is managing the roads needed to move these folks around. Some thoroughfares in high-traffic, high-density areas already are clogged at key times of the day while transportation officials scramble to prioritize the most important projects.

More commercial development drives the need for sewer and water. More residential development creates the need to build schools. All are expensive and need to factor in whether they are sound investments for the long term or quick fixes aimed to play catch-up from growth that arrived five years ago.

Public needs also should balance with private property rights. When the plans of business owners clash with neighbors’ concerns, the burden should be to prove any negative impact from zoning changes. The fact some people don’t want a particular location to be used a certain way isn’t reason enough to deny it. The squeaky wheels can have their say, but they can’t always get their way.

Even then, how do you build, build, build without also tearing down, be it older buildings or trees? At what point is an area “built out” and can take no more without destroying its identity?

Everyone has their answers to these questions. The county, to its credit, wants to hear them. Not everyone will embrace it or be happy with the whole enchilada, and compromise is inevitable. But if the right input is sought and received, the resulting plan should earn enough of a consensus to be supported.

Even if you didn’t answer the survey or can’t attend the public forum, you still can review the plan and let commissioners know how it might affect you. That feedback will help officials decide if they’re headed in the right direction to fulfill the priorities, concerns and dreams Hall Countians have for 2037 and beyond.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.



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