By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
County commissioners approve map to create ‘suburban neighborhoods’ in SE Bulloch
Corridors targeted for water, sewer and R-8 zoning
Map meeting
Florie Consolati, left, who has a master’s degree and experience in watershed science, expresses her concerns to the Bulloch County commissioners Tuesday, June 6, about the new “suburban neighborhood” development area’s inclusion of a large percentage of wetlands in the Black Creek watershed. Another citizen, at right, holds a copy of the Future Development Map with the area marked in yellow at the bottom of the county. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners this week unanimously approved an amendment to Smart Bulloch 2040 Comprehensive Plan and its Future Development Map that stakes out a big new “suburban neighborhood” character area and “suburban corridors” in the southeastern portion of the county.

County staff members are planning to have water and sewer systems – the first to be operated by the county government – built to serve these areas and to focus residential and commercial development there. The water system would draw from some of the four wells that Bulloch County officials have informally promised to drill to serve Hyundai Motor Group’s massive Meta Plant America electric vehicle and battery manufacturing complex now under construction in northern Bryan County.

The commissioners’ vote was 6-0, but followed criticism of the map amendment from some residents, most recently one with a degree in watershed science who observed that the suburban neighborhood development area includes a large amount of wetlands. The map was the last item completed in a package of regulatory changes crafted by county staff members and a citizen committee during a 236-day partial moratorium, which expired April 7, on rezoning for subdivisions in the southeastern part of the county.

“With the anticipation, once Hyundai announced, of future growth, we knew that really had to take a look at how we want to grow,” said county Planning and Development Director James Pope. “So the Board of Commissioners authorized a committee that met several times to look at the Future Development Map, as well as the zoning and subdivision regulations.”

The commissioners enacted those new regulations and a stormwater control ordinance April 4. This left the adoption of the map and plan amendment as the culmination of work Pope said had really begun last July. He spoke to the commissioners June 6 while the map appeared on a screen in the citizen-packed meeting room at the Bulloch County Center for Agriculture.

“We think that this will balance growth with anticipation of what the demand will be,” Pope said. “We can either rezone in a very low-density way and have a lot of land taken up in larger lots, or what this character area will allow us to do is to focus the growth in maybe a little higher-density, concentrated areas.”


‘Suburban’ region

Shown on the map as a yellow region in the southeastern part of Bulloch County, the new “suburban neighborhood” character area looks nearly as large as the established suburban area around Statesboro and Brooklet. But the newly designated area encompasses more forest land, as well as both the Upper Black Creek and Lower Black Creek drainages from Mud Road down to the streams’ confluence, and then Black Creek itself to the Bryan County line.

The northwestern corner of the “suburban” development area is the Denmark community, and the yellow region now encompasses what was formerly shown in purple as an interstate gateway district around the I-16 interchange on Georgia Route 67.

Seed Tick Road forms a long portion of the southern boundary of the suburban neighborhood area, eastward to the creek, and U.S. Highway 80 is included for a couple of miles north from where it first enters Bulloch County. East of Highway 80, a narrow extension of the yellow region takes in Olney Station as a suburban neighborhood.

Within the overall “suburban” land use area, the whole of Old Highway 46 – now a county-maintained road – from Route 67 at Denmark southeast to the county line is traced with an orange line as a “suburban corridor.” So is the roughly two-mile segment of Highway 80 north from the county line.

Old Highway 46 runs roughly parallel to I-16, and land on both sides of the interstate is now in the suburban neighborhood character area.

By definition, highway-commercial zoning, for things such as gas stations with convenience stores, is generally permitted in suburban corridors but not further back in suburban neighborhoods.

It is also in the immediate area of the corridors, or in other words along Old Highway 46 and the small segment of Highway 80, that county staff members expect most of the residential subdivisions to be developed. At least that should be the case for the first several years, Pope said, because those corridors are where the county water system will be installed.


New R-8 zoning

The amendment, recommended for approval by the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission on a previous 5-1 vote, also added the new R-8 zoning classification, created in the April zoning revision, to the suburban neighborhood and suburban corridor areas. 

The smallest-lot single-family home zone in the county’s system, R-8 allows lot sizes down to 8,000 square feet – roughly one-fifth of an acre – in areas served by public water and sewer systems. But larger lot-size classifications are also available to developers in the suburban character areas.


Wetland concerns

Florie Consolati was the only citizen who spoke in opposition to the new map during the commissioners’ hearing on it, but she received some  applause from others  in the crowd. A homeowner on Highway 46 and employed by Wise Nurseries, which is also in southern Bulloch County, Consolati has a master’s degree in watershed science and 14 years experience in fisheries biology and restoration.

Asking the commissioners to deny the map’s approval so that it could be revised “in a more thoughtful way,” she brought her own map to emphasize her concerns about the suburban  character area.

“First I’d like to point out that two-thirds, at least, of that area in south Bulloch County is  wetlands,” Consolati said.  “If we develop wetlands, won’t the county have to spend extra money to create more wetlands somewhere else for mitigation?”

“These costly created wetlands would replace environmental services that we’re getting for free right now, like flood control, for example,” she said. “Where are the flood waters going to go if we develop these wetlands? Wetlands are the sponges of the landscape that slowly release floodwaters into our rivers.”

Wetlands, Consolati said, could also hold water on the land to recharge the aquifers as the four large wells supply water to the Hyundai plant and one of its parts manufacturers, for which the commissioners had approved a zoning change during the same meeting.

She proposed reshaping the “yellow area” to follow the Highway 80 and Eldora Road corridors and said she had also wondered why the area around Nevils, which she called “high and dry” wasn’t designated for  suburban  development.

Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson noted that a steering committee, whose members he named aloud, had guided the process. County Manager Tom Couch noted that a series of public meetings had been held and public notices published.

“It was not just a one-person decision, and trying to preserve farmland, how you preserve farmland is to leave the dry land if possible,” Thompson said.

In response to a question from Consolati, Pope acknowledged that no scientists of her expertise served on the committee. He said, “The development process will take into account wetlands in determination by environmental consultants.”

Commissioner Toby Conner, who farms in that region of the county, indicated that he wants development to begin at the I-16 corridor and not be spread across the entire character area.

“I’m going to accept this map, but I want to make this board and everybody very aware, we’re not going to start with the very first subdivision at Mud Road and Arcola,” Conner said.  “We’re going to work from the interstate outward. That way if all this doesn’t happen, and we don’t need all this area, we won’t never use it.”

Commissioner Ray Mosley made the motion, seconded by Commissioner Anthony Simmons, to adopt the map and comprehensive plan amendment.

Courtesy Bulloch County government This is Bulloch County's newly adopted Future Land Development Map, showing, in yellow at bottom, the new suburban neighborhood character area and suburban corridors, for Denmark southeast to Olney Station around Old Highway 46 and I-16.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter