On August 16, the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners approved a six-month building permit moratorium for southeastern Bulloch County. We support the moratorium because the county must plan for the inevitable new growth driven by the coming Hyundai plant, the Port of Savannah expansion, and other coming industrial development along I-16.
Many residents in southern Bulloch County are pushing against all new housing and commercial development in that area. We very much sympathize with these good people’s desire to maintain their rural lifestyle. However, economic pressures from outside Bulloch County already have foreclosed on the idea of southern Bulloch County remaining rural.
With all the high paying industrial jobs moving to the vicinity of I-16 in adjacent counties, zoning laws cannot keep out residential growth. If Bulloch County zones for two-acre lots in southern Bulloch, the area will fill with houses on two-acre lots, and if the county zones for five-acre lots, the area will fill with houses on five-acre lots. Market forces and tax values on real estate will drive this no matter what the county does.
County leaders seem to understand this and want to plan for and zone for high-density housing in certain parts of southern Bulloch County. Their thumbnail plan makes sense as a starting point.
We are especially heartened by the fact that water and sewer lines running down US 301 and GA 67 from public works facilities in Statesboro provide lots of opportunity for high density housing in the triangle between those two roads and I-16. We understand that a small part of SE Bulloch County may have opportunity to connect to Bryan County water and sewer, as well, allowing for high-density housing in a few areas.
Mind you, just because an area gets water and sewer and gets zoned for high-density development, it does not mean that the county is forcing landowners to sell the property or develop it. Tax values will do this with or without the county’s cooperation. If the county puts in the appropriate zoning and infrastructure, the desired type of development will naturally emerge in the right places so that it all structurally works. Whether the new development emerges in a planned, structurally functional way or not, it is coming never the less.
Why is development inevitable? As high-income jobs move into the area, demand for housing will drive property values up no matter what. As property values go up, so do property taxes. It is already happening.
This year, Bulloch County property taxes are going up significantly despite a reduction in the county millage rate. The real estate market is driving most of the property tax increase this year. The new industrial plants coming to the I-16 area will greatly intensify this in southern Bulloch.
Eventually, property taxes in southern Bulloch will exceed rent income generated by farming. This, not zoning laws, or even infrastructure, will drive agriculture from southern Bulloch. We know of no political tools available to the county that can stop this.
What can happen if Bulloch County tries to prevent the urbanization between Statesboro and I-16? Well, all the people working in the plants who cannot afford housing near I-16 will find it in Statesboro and regions of the county North and West of Statesboro.
As it is, many of those workers will choose to live in Statesboro anyway because of the college town vibe. That voluntary growth will actually benefit Statesboro. However, forcing Statesboro to accommodate all the housing needs generated by the new industry along I-16 will swamp the rental market with relatively high-income people and cause rent prices everywhere in Statesboro to climb much higher than they otherwise would.
Property tax values in Statesboro will cause property owners to redevelop Statesboro’s low-income neighborhoods into higher-end properties. The people who cannot afford the new housing will have nowhere to go but the streets.
Furthermore, tax values will spread residential development north and west to parts of Bulloch County where farming and a rural lifestyle may otherwise survive. In addition, county policy pushing development north and west of Statesboro will greatly increase traffic through Statesboro and would require the county to invest in a lot more infrastructure improvement in a far more spread out area than it otherwise would. This would increase infrastructure costs causing property tax millage rates to go up which in turn will speed development throughout the county.
Politically prohibiting the urbanization of southern Bulloch will cause the faster urbanization and gentrification of the whole county.
Habitat for Humanity