Zoning ordinance concerns raised

·6 min read

Jul. 2—If Neal Boatright wanted to give one of his children land to build a home on his rural 80-acre tract in Glynn County, it would have to be at least one acre.

His property is too far from municipal water and sewer, so a septic tank would be needed, the reason state law includes the minimum size requirement.

Boatright, owner of a construction company, doesn't have a problem with the state law. He does have complaints about a proposed revised county zoning ordinance that would require a second home on his property to be on a tract 10 acres in size.

Boatright, one of nine committee members appointed to review and edit the proposed ordinance, made the motion at Monday's meeting to reject the 180-page draft, which was approved by an 8-1 vote.

"You would be hard pressed to find out how we got here," he said. "This rewrite is not what they envisioned. It got hijacked along the line."

The intent of the rewrite when it started in 2019 was to better organize zoning ordinances. If someone wanted to build a gas station or an office building, for example, a person would find all the applicable information in one section of the ordinance.

If it would have been done the way it was intended, Boatright said the streamlined version "would make it easy as possible" and would not require a person to jump from section to section in the ordinance to make sure they were not missing anything and there are no surprises once a building project starts.

Boatright said the environmental group One Hundred Miles and its members had too much influence on the new ordinance. The recommendation for at least 10 acres to build a home requiring a septic tank in rural Glynn County was designed to reduce the county's density.

"The way it was done, it was done purposely," he said. "They want to kill development in Glynn County."

He described the document as the "most intrusive, anti-property rights, big government document" that the consultant, TSW, has ever produced.

Despite his dislike for the draft ordinance, there may be parts that could be salvaged.

"I don't think we'll be able to use a lot of it," he said.

He believes the easiest way to deal with the problem is to take a different approach. He wants to take the existing ordinance, fix what's wrong or outdated and leave what works alone in an organized manner.

"You have to have rules and regulations," Boatright said. "It should be streamlined and as easy as possible."

Committee member Missy Neu described the proposed ordinance as "a radical departure" from the existing ordinance.

"So much is a far departure from anything any of us had heard," she said. "I think many of the committee members are worried about what's in the weeds and how things nonconforming will be treated."

Some of the recommendations are probably needed because of changes in state laws, but if the goal was to clarify and better organize the county's zoning ordinance, it failed.

"It's a lot of work to find everything in the old document," Neu said. "I think there's good in the new ordinance. We need to pull it out and add it to what's existing."

If she was a county commissioner, Neu said she would "push back" on what the consultant has recommended.

"The majority of Glynn County people care about property rights," Neu said. "I don't think that document reflects that."

Michael Torras, another committee member, believes the proposed ordinance "is not a workable document," though there may be some recommendations in the proposed ordinance that could be useful.

One recommendation in the ordinance that Torras and other committee members said didn't make sense was a requirement that would prohibit circular driveways to create a more pedestrian-friendly area.

"Our codes have been chopped up and added to," he said. "It will be worth the time. This document cost us nearly $300,000. It's not going to be fun and it's not going to be easy."

County Commissioner Walter Rafolski said he and other committee members have repeatedly asked for a side-by-side redline version of the existing and new ordinances to determine the changes. The consultant said that cannot be done.

Rafolski said it will be a challenge, but agrees there are likely parts of the recommended ordinance that can be salvaged.

"I don't think we want to throw the baby out with the bath water," he said.

Like other committee members, Rafolski said he has received a lot of complaints, concerns and questions, such as the recommendation to disband the county's Board of Appeals.

The request for proposal, or RFP, does not describe what the county expected to get from the consultant, he said. Rafolski said he wants to know the logic the consultants used when they created the new ordinance and the role county staff played.

"I wasn't part of that process," he said. "Back then it was a different commission."

Megan Desrosiers, president and CEO of One Hundred Miles, said Georgia has 14 barrier islands, four of which are accessible by car, and three of those islands are in Glynn County.

"Growth is knocking on our door, and we have a choice to make," she said. "There is no doubt that we are going to let people who want to develop in. We already have."

But the growth will force the county to make some choices, she said.

"Are we going to let them determine what the future of Glynn County looks like? Or are we going to decide that for ourselves and partner with them to make it happen?," she asked.

Zoning is the tool communities use to establish rules for how they develop, Desrosiers said.

"It is not just for developers but for everyone who invests in Glynn County to buy a home, to raise a family, or to build a business," she said. "Zoning determines our safety and our quality of life. It is the playbook that will result in our future landscape."

Congested roads in the future will be the result of how the county is zoned and if flooding becomes an issue.

"If we have flooding, it will be made better or worse because of how we allowed people to build," she said. "If we have an ability to walk or bike to school or a restaurant, it will be because of what our zoning ordinance requires."