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Landowners to county: No more zoning restrictions
About 50 that live near airport share concerns about proposed overlay
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Citizens who own property near the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport told county officials Tuesday they do not want more zoning restrictions placed on their land.

Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch, Commissioners Carolyn Etheridge, Roy Thompson and Walter Gibson, and other county officials met with about 50 residents and landowners at the airport terminal Tuesday night to discuss and get input regarding a proposed airport overlay ordinance, which would further restrict property around the airport.

But after talking a bit about the proposed ordinance and answering questions, Couch asked for a show of hands from people who felt the proposal could be tweaked. Only a few hands fluttered in the air.

When Couch asked how many people felt there should be no additional zoning restrictions at all, almost every person in the room raised a hand.

"That has to be taken into consideration now, doesn't it?" Couch said.

Local attorney Randy Anderson pointed out that many opposed the proposed airport overlay ordinance because people with land around the airport would have to be the only ones paying the price for what could be considered public good. Those people would "never be compensated," and the ordinance would end up devaluing the properties, he said.

Couch explained the proposed ordinance at the beginning of the meeting. The proposal would limit structure height, limit development of surrounding parcels, and restrict uses of said parcels.

He said there was no timeline for instituting the ordinance, and that no airport expansion is planned. The proposed overlay ordinance would simply protect the airport and make it safer, he said. "This is not something we are trying to ram down anyone's throats."

There has been talk of encroachment since 2004, he said. The ordinance proposal is "trying to balance uses between the airport and future development."

It would also protect land owners form hazards, he said.

Anyone with current ponds or other uses that would be prohibited by the overlay ordinance would be "grandfathered in," Couch said.

But citizens expressed concerns. Dr. Paul Whitlock was worried about how the overlay ordinance would affect future development around the U.S. 301 North area, which he said is "extremely important to industry in the area."

Holland Industrial Park is located near the airport, and a railroad runs through the area targeted for the overlay.

Local developer Keely Fennel said current zoning ordinances already make developers "jump through hoops," and said the disclosure that would be required if the overlay ordinance passed would likely deter potential buyers.

Jessie Hinton asked about plans to extend runways, but Couch said t would "take an act of Congress" to get expansions approved, and added there are no existing plans for any expansion in the near future.

Local attorney Steve Rushing asked why the ordinance was proposed if no expansions are planned. "Why now? Why such a vast area?" He pointed out that the proposal would require language to be added to deeds, and "that clearly is going to devalue folks' property."

Couch said the proposal was designed to strike a balance between the airport interests and those of property owners, but "it is not set in stone. We may go back and rework it."

The time frame would have to be "dictated by the public," he said.

Developer Robbie Bell said he had "extreme concern" about the proposal and said he has already had property declined by Planning and Zoning that he hoped to develop.
"I think the majority in this room are fairly opposed to this."

Couch said additional steps for zoning, should the proposed ordinance pass, would be "very limited."

Anderson asked about similar airports in cities the size of Statesboro. Couch said Glynn, Spaulding and Coweta counties have ordinance overlays similar to the one Bulloch County proposed.

After hearing the opinions of the citizens who attended Tuesday's public hearing, Couch said the issue would have to be reviewed further by county and airport officials to determine whether a different proposal would be made that would meet public approval.

"I'd like to commend you," Thompson told Couch. "I think you did a great job (handling the meeting). This is the right way to do it - a public meeting, public opinion is what we needed."

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 912-489-9414.









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