Monday, December 18, 2006

Stop a rezoning?

Time after time I’ve watched neighbors band together to try and stop a proposed rezoning from happening. Petitions are generated and signed, phone calls to commissioners or council members orchestrated and crowds show up at the meeting to protest the rezoning. Yet it still happens despite all the protests.

In last weeks Commission meeting a developer wanted to put 30 houses on 41.785 acres, changing the zoning from A-R to R-50. Those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods were not happy about the new development. They contended traffic was already horrible and other similar reasons for not wanting the zoning changed. They made a lot of phone calls and talked a good talk. Only a few showed up at the meeting to speak against the rezoning, probably because they realized the futility of the situation.

All of the land around the piece of property in question had already been developed with one-acre lots. The commissioner’s hands were tied. There was no legal standing to deny the owner the right to change the zoning to match the zoning surrounding their property. The property was land used many, many years ago for one-acre development. When most of the people living in the subdivisions that abut the property bought their houses, the plan already existed.

As it turns out, the owner and developer actually opted for a slightly better zoning category than those in the neighboring subdivisions. They also made a voluntary concession to add turning lanes to mitigate some traffic problems. Many wouldn’t be as interested in making a similar concession, nor could the County Commission require them to do so.

When could this have been stopped? Could it have been stopped? How do you stop a rezoning in your neck of the woods?

The ideal time to stop a rezoning is years before the area becomes a golden gleam in the eye of a developer. Vigilance is needed. People have to care not just about what happens behind them, but what is happening five, ten and twenty miles away.

Affordability, size, schools, traffic and proximity to shopping and work are just a few considerations that go into the decision making process. How many take the time to visit the city or county to determine what their plans are for the area? Just because you move into a five-acre subdivision that is surrounded by 30-acre farms doesn’t mean it will remain the same for any length of time. If the city/county plans call for higher density or commercial building and you’re adverse to it, know that you’ll be unhappy with your piece of paradise sooner or later. If you haven’t taken the time to review the county’s Land Use Plan, it’s not to late.

Watching what is happening to the surrounding area and keeping abreast of changes in the land use plans are necessary. You can’t simply watch the immediate neighboring pieces of land. It’s necessary to watch zoning changes throughout the perimeter of what you consider the ideal buffer between your home and the undesirable density areas.

Once a rezoning is granted or a piece of property is annexed into the city with increased density anywhere in your buffer zone, there can be, and often is, a domino affect. For instance, lets say the city annexes a 60-acre tract ten multi-acre lots from yours. They allow 4 houses to an acre or a huge commercial development. You can’t see it, you never drive by it and may not believe it will have any impact on you.

However, the landowners around that spot are going to see dollar signs or possibly just get frustrated with the changes resulting from the new development. They start looking to sell — and of course, they want top dollar. The best way to maximize the return on their property investment is to increase density or sell for a commercial development.

Because their land now abuts a four-house per acre development, it becomes almost impossible, legally, to deny the landowner to switch to a somewhat similar density. The county, which may have originally land-used the land for 5-acre lots, may be forced in court to increase density to one or two-acre lots. They may be able to stick to their guns, but you can bet the landowners and developers are going to be fighting with all their might to get the most for that piece of property. If the County Commission has ever made an exception to their land use plan in a similar circumstance, the chances of defending their position to stay at lower density becomes even more impossible. (Which means you also have to watch the County Commission, or the City Council, to make sure they are consistent in the upholding of land use and zonings.)

Also, to make things more difficult, Georgia law gives cities the right to allow any landowner to have their property annexed without approval from the county. The city doesn’t have to allow the annexation, but in the majority of cases they will. Once that distant piece of property is annexed, there’s a good chance the next property owner in line is going to go that route if the county won’t allow the density they desire.

The sprawl is inching closer to your home and, unless you are paying attention, your little area of heaven is being threatened. It might take two years, it might take ten, but sooner or later the pieces of property near yours will be next in the line of progression.

So what’s a person to do to protect their property values and their quality way of life? Watch those in government closely. It’s not necessary to go to meetings, but reviewing City Council and/or County Commission agendas should be a must. Then follow up to see how they voted on the issues. You can find the minutes to every meeting on-line. Read them.

Don’t wait until the guy next store goes before the Board requesting a shopping center. To stop the rezoning next door to you, get involved when that property across town on the edge of your paradise is up for grabs. Make noise, voice your objections, do your homework before the first domino falls. If not, someday your property will be next in line and it will be too late.

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