December 2017 News Article

How can Citizens Influence the Direction
of Future Growth in Elbert County?

As published in the December 2017 Prairie Times

There are many points where citizens can influence change. You can have input at the "big-picture level" - in the master plan and its supporting regulations and/or at the "neighborhood-level" as individual land use proposals are considered. Each is discussed below:

1. The Master Plan. Growth is guided by the Master Plan. Development and maintenance of this plan is the statutory responsibility of the Planning Commission. This plan is visionary in nature and not regulatory. It broadly describes the future desired by the people and prioritizes which aspects of growth and development are most important. Ideally, they are regularly reviewed and updated and any assumptions made during development are validated or adjusted. The Planning Commission is currently working to rewrite our current (twenty-one-year-old) master plan. Several public input sessions have been held and online surveys have been designed to gather input from the people of the county. We urge all to participate in this important process as it continues toward completion in late Spring of 2018.

2. Zoning and Subdivision Regulations. While the Master Plan provides a vision for our destination as a county, zoning and subdivision regulations provide a roadmap toward that destination. Consistently applying regulations is critically important as they limit full and unfettered property rights of individuals in order to balance impacts on the property rights of others. They prevent arbitrary decisions and ensure due process for all parties involved in land use decisions. The BOCC has the quasi-judicial responsibility to apply these regulations when applications come before us. To not do so would be a failure in our duties as Commissioners.
Much like our Master Plan, our regulations have become outdated. Over the years, many resolutions have been passed that change the regulations. They exist as stand-alone documents and addendums that those who do not use them regularly may overlook. The result is confusing, clumsy, sometimes self-contradictory and difficult to apply consistently. This is wrong for both applicants and the people. For this reason, we have directed the review and update our current regulations. The intent of this process is the eliminate inconsistencies and ensure a set of regulations (a road map) that is easily understood and can be followed by anyone interested. This action is being worked in parallel with the master plan effort. An open house regarding the re-write process is scheduled at the county fairgrounds on December 14th from 2:00pm until 8:00pm. We encourage you to stop by, learn more about the process and provide your input. Before we adopt any changes to these regulations, publicly noticed hearings will be held.

3. Specific Land-Use Applications. Where the Master Plan describes our destination and our regulations are our road map- individual land use applications are the vehicles on the roads. Like vehicles, applications come in many different forms and can serve many purposes. What is common to all though, is that recommendations (Planning Commission) or decisions (Commissioners) to accept, reject, or modify all applications are made in publicly noticed hearings where citizens are allowed to provide their input. Several of the most common documents that a citizen may see discussed are described below:

Plats: A plat is essentially a map of a proposed subdivision. Both preliminary and final plats will be discussed in hearings. A preliminary plat shows the overall layout of the areas(s) to be built and street pattern to insure that the proposed layout complies with all applicable county requirements. A Final Plat represents a tract of land, showing the boundaries and location of individual building lots, streets,
easements and other pertinent information. For small subdivisions, a Preliminary and Final Plat may be
combined as one document. For larger developments, multiple Final Plats may be considered as
individual neighborhoods are often built in phases. An approved final plat is a legal record of lots for
which a building permit can be issued.

Special District Service Plans: Special Districts (Water and Sanitation, Metropolitan, etc.) are
governmental entities formed through judicial action that provide amenities as described in their service
plans. They are common when larger developments are built. Currently, there are 32 such districts in
Elbert County. Special Districts provide a developer with the means to borrow money to construct a
sustainable community. This debt is paid back through a specific property tax on the homes that are
built with the special district. Though the districts are formed by the courts, their Service Plans are
approved by the Commissioners in quasi-legislative public hearings. These plans provide a description of
the services the district will provide, who they will serve, what they will cost to establish and operate,
how they are funded, and where they can (and can't) provide services.

Subdivision Improvement Plans (SIA): An SIA is a contract between a developer and the county
regarding responsibilities for the construction of public works (roads, etc.) Though not required to be
approved in a public hearing, we believe they are critically important in ensuring a sustainable
infrastructure and have begun considering these documents as part of the public hearing process. It
binds the developer to the agreed upon construction standards for onsite improvements and articulates
requirements for improvements to roads outside the development that will serve new communities.
Additionally, the SIA dictates warrantee and acceptance requirements that must be met if the county is
to accept roads into our county maintenance programs.

We welcome and encourage public input throughout the entire development process - from Master
Plan development through consideration of individual land use applications. We hope this overview
helps citizens focus their efforts when offering their input on these matters.

Chris Richardson, Commissioner District 1
Danny Willcox, Commissioner District 2
Grant Thayer, Commissioner District 3