The Commerce Planning Commission voted to recommend passage of a new zoning district during its Monday meeting.
The ordinance, if passed by the city council on May 14, will piggyback one the Jackson County Board of Commissioners already passed.
The measures mirror each other in establishing an “East Jackson Overlay” district, designed to regulate future development in certain boundary areas of the city and unincorporated county, explained Toni Smith, Jackson County’s senior planner. She spoke about the ordinances at the meeting, where two of the nine crowd members in attendance questioned the need for such laws.
While major “gateways” including parts of Maysville, Jefferson and Ila roads as well as Ga. 326 and U.S. 441, make up the ordinance’s focus, entire tracts of property near the thoroughfares are in the district map as well, Smith explained. The law’s intention is to bring future subdivision and commercial properties under the same building guidelines, she added.
This drew questions from the landowners whose farm properties were rolled into the map.
“I’m all for decency, and making your place look decent and that sort of thing. But quite honestly, trying to farm is a nightmare because of so many regulatory agencies. They absolutely are driving you crazy,” said Sam Thurmond, who lives on Waterworks Road and owns a farming business off Hwy. 98. “I’ve been farming for 45 years, and I get stuff almost weekly about rules changes. What I can do and can’t do, this agency is going to do this or do that. I see this as just more regulation and expense to the taxpayer, because someone is going to have to enforce this ... I don’t think you can legislate decency no matter how many rules you pass or regulations you put on the general public.”
In response to Thurmond’s questions and those posed by Bill Sims, whose property sits in Jackson County, planning commission chairman Joe Leffew pointed out that the ordinance mainly impacts new development. Property zoned agricultural would be exempt from the ordinance, which will not change current county and city codes, he and Smith said. Also grandfathered in, and therefore exempt, are current businesses.
“This is just making the two areas cohesive,” Leffew said, adding there were “no tricks or gimmicks.”
The measure passed by a 2-1 margin, with Leffew and Jimmy Stephenson voting to approve the ordinance and Andrew Rollins voting against the measure. Doug Newcomer and Kyle Moore were not present.
Before the vote, Rollins raised concerns about how the law would impact the way business is conducted in Commerce, especially with regard to signage. He also questioned whether or not the cost of new housing would increase in the overlay district and the amount of time the commission spent deliberating the measure.
“We have nipped at the edges of it in a couple other meetings we had,” Rollins said. “We would be relying on (planning and zoning director) David (Zellner) to be our encyclopedia and explain how all these changes will affect Commerce and the citizens of Commerce.”
Zellner said he did not believe the addition of codes in the overlay district would prevent developers or businesses from moving into the city.
One aspect of the ordinance everyone agreed on related to the need for improvement as far as looks and character on the main highway arteries entering Commerce.
“We probably need to look forward into our gateways and go farther than even this goes,” Leffew said.
• Also passed was a request by Eddie Savage, 48 Waters Lane, that his quarter-acre lot be rezoned from R5 to C2. He said he intends to asphalt and fence part of the property for future use as a car lot.