Pickens Planning Director Richard Osborne announced last week that after months of meetings and work the county and cities’ Comprehensive Plan Update has been adopted locally and accepted at the state, thus closing out the process for another cycle.
Updates are required on a five-year basis but this plan as a whole is considered effective from 2018 to 2028. The “stick” used by state government to force local communities through the process is requiring a current plan in place for many grants.
“It is a big deal,” said Osborne. “It is a requirement.”
Having the approved plan doesn’t directly give the county or cities any funding. On the other hand the plan does not require anything out of the county or any city once adopted.
During the public discussions, questions were asked about what the county would get at completion or whether it would tie our hands? In one case, Mayor John Weaver argued against plans in general, saying Gilmer County had forced itself to build more fire stations than needed because of an outdated plan.
But this is not the case. The plan may be used in conjunction with other short-term land use decisions but in itself the comprehensive plan doesn’t mandate anything.
“This will help zoning and planning,” said Osborne. “We can look at it and ask, ‘what does the comprehensive plan say?’ It’s a plan. It’s a vision.”
Compared to other counties, Pickens had a much higher level of public interest in the process with more than 700 people filling out surveys and at least 20 people in attendance at all meetings over the past year; some meetings as large as 40 people.
“A lot of places have only 5-10 people show up,” Osborne said. “We had 20 or more at all of them.”
Osborne, who acted as a host and impartial facilitator, said it was useful to hear the differences of opinions expressed by people and the variety of views expressed by people from different parts of the county.
He summed up the general vision expressed based on survey results, e-mails, calls and face-to-face interactions:
• For the county as a whole, the responses showed that people favor maintaining a rural heritage. The comments showed the people want large lots, rural development and mostly residential or agricultural growth.
• The Talking Rock area seemed to want a rural village setting, but to promote their downtown stores and tourism.
• Nelson recognizes it is adjacent to fast growing Cherokee County and sees themselves as a middle-class commuter area with more suburban style residential development.
• Jasper, for the largest city in the county, Osborne said he would be more comfortable letting their leaders summarize their aims. He did note that the plan reflects that Jasper “is in the driver’s seat” for the county with greater access on Highway 515, as the only sewage provider in the county and with their downtown business area.
Osborne has provided a three-page executive summary, also available online.