The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners is slated to consider a moratorium Tuesday that would block, for 180 days, new requests for rezoning that could allow more residential subdivisions to be built in the county’s southeastern section, much of which is currently zoned AG-5 for agriculture.
A resolution for the moratorium was included in the agenda packet commissioners received for the 8:30 a.m. Aug. 16 regular meeting. The moratorium’s stated purpose is to allow the county government to review and potentially revise its Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Ordinance, subdivision regulations and other policies and laws “to address current and future development trends.”
Hyundai, of course
In the resolution’s preamble, the first “whereas” clause notes that “Bulloch County is expected to be impacted” by Hyundai Motor Group’s announced opening of a factory in neighboring Bryan County “where 8,100 on-site jobs and the potential for up to 9,500 spin-off jobs are to be created by … 2025.” Construction of the electric vehicle and battery plant is expected to begin early next year, according to Hyundai’s May 2022 announcement.
“Bulloch County will be an attractive option for workforce housing and spin-off business growth,” the second clause states. So, rapid residential growth already occurring in the county’s “traditionally rural southeast section … is projected to double by 2030,” states the third.
One point that county commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson emphasized, in a phone interview Monday, was that the commissioners are not forcing or urging any landowners to sell farmland for residential, commercial or industrial uses. Those decisions are being made by individual landowners, and the county officials then have to decide whether to grant requested zoning changes.
“We just need to revisit that area with the growth that possibly is coming — you know, if the farmers don’t sell their land, there’ll be no growth — and we’re running into a lot of opposition with the rezones,” Thompson said. “The ones that are wanting to sell their property; then the farmers are coming out against the farmers.”
Farmer vs. farmer
He confirmed that he really did mean to say “farmers are coming out against … farmers.” Zoning disputes, by their nature, often pit neighbors against neighbors. With some of the requests that have come to the appointed Planning and Zoning Commission for recommendations and then to the elected Board of Commissioners for final decisions in 2021 and 2022, farmers or farm family heirs have proposed to sell land to subdivision developers, but some active farmers have spoken or signed petitions in opposition.
“So we just need to slow down and take a look and see, because the way we see it, we’re going to have a tremendous amount of growth in Bulloch County, residentially and commercially, industrial-wise,” Thompson said. “But we may not have any growth residentially, if folks decide not to sell their property.”
The moratorium, as proposed, would apply only to “Southeast Bulloch County” as defined by a map attached to the resolution. This area extends south from Statesboro and Burkhalter Road to the Bryan County Line. It surrounds Brooklet, but Brooklet has its own city zoning and so wouldn’t be directly affected.
In the moratorium area, the county government would halt consideration of new requests for rezoning to seven zoning classifications, effective immediately if commissioners approve the moratorium Tuesday, for 180 days, ending at the close of business on Feb. 10, 2023. The preamble states that the review and any revisions are “anticipated to take no longer than” 180 calendar days.
A further passage reserves the commissioners the right to extend the moratorium up to 180 additional days. Thompson said he does not want or expect that long a hold on rezoning but that the commissioners could extend it by a month or two past the first 180 days if needed.
The rezoning classifications to be blocked are R-40, R-25 and R-15 single-family residential, R-3 multi-family residential, R-2 two-family residential, PUD-1 planned residential development and MHP, manufactured home park. R-40 requires a 40,000-square-foot lot, or 0.9 acres; R-25 at least 25,000 square feet; and R-15 at least 15,000 square feet, or one-third acre.
Friday’s resolution draft didn’t mention R-80, a single-family residential classification defined in the county zoning ordinance as requiring a minimum 80,000-square-foot lot, which is 1.8 acres.
Home lots measuring five acres or larger, or down to one acre if deeded to a family member, are also allowed in AG-5 zoning, which is officially “agricultural and residential,” without a zoning change. This would not be blocked.
In fact, the resolution states: “This moratorium shall have no effect upon applications for or approvals of building permits, sketch plans, development plans, conceptual site plans, etc. … when such applications or approvals are based on the existing zoning.”
Any applications for rezoning that have already been filed and are awaiting consideration would also continue through the process under the existing rules, Thompson said. But the moratorium would prohibit county employees and officials from accepting new applications for rezoning to the barred classifications within the Southeast Bulloch area, and if any are accidentally accepted, make them “null and void.”
During the review of ordinances and the Bulloch County Comprehensive Plan, officials will “designate areas for commercial, designate areas for residential growth” and look at conditions placed on residential subdivisions, such as requirements for roads, sidewalks and curbing and gutters, Thompson said.
“We’re going to take a look at everything,” he said. “We’re going to do this for six months. If we are satisfied with what we’ve done, then we’ll start zoning again, and if not, we may ask for another month or two delay so we can address every issue.”
County officials have considered contracting consultants for this work. But more certainly, Thompson said, if the moratorium is the imposed, he will create a steering committee of perhaps eight people, including some commissioners as well as representatives of the school system, agriculture and possibly other sectors.