Land Use Moves Forward in Stephens Co.

Stephens County will move forward with designing a land use regulation plan to put forward for consideration by the county commission.

Tuesday, Stephens County Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the design of a land use regulation plan similar to Franklin and Madison counties with the help of the Land Use Regulation Committee and professional assistance.

Stephens County Commissioner Harold Andrews called this just one step in the process.

“This is a first step,” said Andrews. “There is a difference between development and implementation. We have got to develop before we implement.”

Fellow Commissioner Dennis Bell said he also supports moving ahead with work on a plan.

“I have talked to many of you around the community,” said Bell. “It is time to move forward.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Dean Scarborough said that Stephens County is dealing with issues now because land use was not in place before and says the county cannot afford to wait any longer.

“If we do not do it, we could have several more Wilbros,” said Scarborough, referring specifically to the Rose Lane business causing controversy over its odors. “We will not be able to afford to take every single one of them to court. We have already found out that the state will not protect us in this instance. We are finding out the court is not a lot of help right now either. We have got to protect ourselves and now is the time to do it.”

Commissioner Debbie Whitlock and Chairman Stanley London both expressed concerns about zoning and land use as they voted for the motion.

Whitlock said she does not like zoning, but understands the situation.

“When I ran, I said we can’t have our cake and eat it too,” said Whitlock. “I abhor it if you want to know the truth, but we have to do something to protect ourselves.”

Meanwhile, London said he remains opposed to zoning, but will give the committee an opportunity to work on the matter.

“I do appreciate this committee,” said London. “I am glad that we have some new members on it. When I open those two (plans) mentioned in this motion, it does scare me. Again, hopefully you as a committee can work something out.”

The county is adding four additional people to the committee as appointments for Commissioners Bell and Whitlock, who did not make appointments to the original committee.

The Land Use Regulation Committee voted 7 to 1 earlier this month to make this recommendation.

Committee Spokesperson Cynthia Brown said they feel it is a matter of protecting the county’s future, both for residents and businesses.

“In spite of the fact that we have the finest school system, medical facilities, and beautiful natural resources, folks are going to continue to take quality businesses and good-paying jobs elsewhere,” said Brown. “Even though Stephens County has all of the ingredients to attract new employers and encourage existing industry to expand here, investors are going to put their dollars in communities where their investments are protected.”

A number of people spoke in favor of moving forward, including local resident and credit union CEO Brian Akin.

“Under most circumstances, I truly believe that less government is better government,” said Akin. “However to have no government, for example the lack of land use regulations, is a recipe for disaster. It has often been said that a failure to plan is a plan for failure.”

Nobody came to the podium to speak out against moving forward with the design of a plan.

With the motion passed, county officials said the Land Use Regulation Committee will now quickly move forward with beginning to design that plan.