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West Jackson residents participate in comprehensive plan process
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BRASELTON — Who said coloring is just for kids?

When residents walked into the meeting room last week at the Braselton Police and Municipal Court facility, they found colored pencils and blank maps of Jackson County for them to unleash their creative juices while giving the county much-needed information about how residents think the county should grow.

Planning Manager Gina Mitsdarffer and staff organized the first of four comprehensive plan town hall meetings scheduled in September as the public participation part of creating the county’s comprehensive plan.

A comprehensive plan is a document that describes how the county will change and grow in the next 10 to 20 years, and it acts as a guideline for local government officials in their decision making.

“It’s a legal document that holds your county government accountable,” Commissioner Bruce Yates said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Those at the meeting had a hands-on experience coloring in the maps to denote what they wanted to see in the county’s future.

Each colored pencil had a tag on it that represented a specific land use type — agricultural, commercial, parks/recreation and conservation, rural and rural residential, industrial, public institutional and residential.

For the predominantly West Jackson audience, issues like traffic control and increased medical services were among the myriad of ideas discussed following the coloring session.

Residents also suggested increasing commercial growth along Ga. 124 and 332 while maintaining the rural residential feel between Braselton and Jefferson, and creating some sort of transition area between the commercial and the agricultural parts of West Jackson.

Creating another exit off Interstate 85 at Ga. 60 or Ga. 332 was another popular idea and something the county has discussed in the past.

Though some ideas were easy for those at the meeting to agree on, some people were at odds over issues such as lot and home size.

“We definitely had opposing opinions. Some said they wanted larger lots but some said they wanted aesthetic and quality in smaller lots,” Mitsdarffer said. “There were different views on different things.”

The planning department and other county officials will have their second town hall meeting tonight in Jefferson and still have two more to go before the month’s end. After that, Mitsdarffer will meet with the comprehensive plan steering committee to discuss their findings from the four meetings.

“We’re going to get some major ideas from that (meeting). We’ll try to sort all of that out” and create a draft map with residents’ suggestions incorporated into it for both the county commission and all residents to see, she said.

In the meantime, the planning staff has updated the comprehensive plan section of the Jackson County Web site to reflect the current land use maps and the draft of the Community Participation Program.

“The community participation program looks at what are natural resources are, what are our current county services, how many fire trucks we have, all those technical things we need to know up front,” Mitsdarffer explained.

This document will go to the county planning commission this month, reach the board of commissioners in October and then go on to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for approval.

Though the process is a long one, Mitsdarffer said the community involvement is crucial to the plan’s creation.

“It went well with the numbers that were there (at Tuesday’s meeting) and getting some citizen input ... because we have a list of opportunities and issues to work with.”

Regional events