Land Use Plan Headed to Public in Stephens Co.

Stephens  County is putting its proposed Land Use Plan out to the public.

Tuesday, the Stephens County Land Use Regulation Committee met to review the 58-page proposal once more and set up times for the public to ask questions and make comments.

The plan sets up zoning classifications such as agricultural residential, agricultural business, agricultural intensive, single-family residential, multi-family residential, commercial general business, commercial industrial, and commercial community business.

It then lays out the rules for properties that fall into those different categories.

Stephens County Administrator Phyllis Ayers said that the plan takes a number of cues from the plan already put together in Franklin County.

“It was much smaller and Franklin (County) was similar with such an agricultural base,” said Ayers.

During Tuesday’s meeting, a couple of Land Use Committee members acknowledged that the idea of land use made them uncomfortable, but with one adding that some action was necessary.

The county’s land use plan, if adopted, would only apply to the unincorporated areas of StephensCounty.  The cities of Toccoa, Avalon, and Martin all have their own zoning regulations that would remain in place unchanged by the county’s plan.

Also, Ayers said whatever someone has on their property right now would not be affected by the land use plan because it will be grandfathered in.

“The committee made the decision to classify each parcel as what is going on on that parcel today,” said Ayers.

For example, Ayers said if you are a commercial business in a residential district, you were still zoned as a commercial business property because that is what is currently on the property.

Ayers also said that if the plan is adopted and someone wants a variance under the land use plan, they could apply for one through Building Inspector Larry Krul, who will serve as Planning Director.

She said that request would then go to a five-member Planning Commission selected by the county commissioners and eventually to the county commission itself.

According to Ayers, the Planning Commission would make a recommendation only to county commissioners.

“That would go on a formal Board of Commissioners’ meeting (agenda) and that is where the actual granting of the variance or the denial would take place,” said Ayers.

With the proposal in place, the public will now have a month to review the plan, ask questions, and make comments.

Staff and/or Land Use Committee members will be available starting on Monday, February 10 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon at the Stephens County Tax Assessor’s Office in the Stephens County Government Building and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. in the historic Stephens County Courthouse to take comments and questions on the plan.

Ayers said the county strongly urges the public to come out.

“This is the time that if there is a classification that needs to be changed, if there is something inside the ordinance that they want the committee to look at and possibly amend, (to bring it up),” said Ayers.

Ayers called the land use plan a “living document” that is not set in stone.

“We did most all this work in-house,” said Ayers.  “We want to send a message that this is something we need to do as a community together to complete this process.”

Those review sessions will continue through the week of March 3.

Ayers said the public can also view the plan online at the county’s website and call and e-mail with questions.

She said if someone does not have an answer right away, they will find out and contact individuals back with the answer.

Ayers said the plan is to present the plan for a first formal reading at the February 25 Stephens County Commission meeting in advance of an expected vote at the commission’s March 11 meeting.