Gilmer revisiting Comprehensive Plan amid studies

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Expecting no effect on the timeline of the previous moratorium, Gilmer is continuing its process along the debate of Gilmer’s population and density. A widespread topic encompassing large developments, apartment buildings, affordable housing, lot sizes, lot numbers, the comprehensive plan and the moratorium on certain developments, the debate has gone on for some time as both citizens and leaders are looking for possible answers.

Today’s step in the process approved an early revisit to the county’s comprehensive plan. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that the county isn’t scheduled to revisit the plan for another three years. However, the suggestion of an early revisit came as the county is looking at studies and impacts of population and density within the county.

The studies were a major part of the reasoning for the moratorium originally, and as the county continues those, it hopes to revisit and adjust the document accordingly to provide a better guide towards zoning request they see likely to arise. Paris also noted a need for three new zones in the county.

Affordable housing has proven a touchy subject for many in the county as has been seen in the commissioners meetings even when major rezonings or land use topics weren’t on the agenda. Groups like Keep Gilmer Rural have also helped continue discussions on the topic over the months. In many of those meetings and discussions, citizens reference the comprehensive plan and the direction the county is headed.

Now, the hope for the current revisit is touching specific subjects, the board indicated that it didn’t believe a complete redo of the plan was necessary but would rather confirm, change, clarify, or readjust those specific topics.

The discussion among the board indicated that while they may not get the exact same people that were on committees last time, they are hoping to have the same representation. With community response high last time, the board is just as eager to get a balanced sample of the community providing insight and input from all corners and ideals.

They have already begun discussion over the topic with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker questioning if certain groups such as farmers were included. While Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, who was very involved in the last revisit, assured Parker that specifically farmers were included, she agreed that there could be some new people in the county with particular interest in the plan and the county’s direction.

A new change that was discussed among the Board of Commissioners came as Chairman Paris requested that the board as a whole step back from the plan and be less involved than they previously were. He stated concerns over perception of any commissioner being involved in the plan’s development saying that he didn’t want it to appear that the board was attempting any sort of “spin” on the plan.

Paris stated, “We’re going to be listening to a lot of very contentious rezoning requests over the next year.”

He noted that many people adamantly hold their own opinions on both sides and if the board members can abstain from the committees themselves, it could assuage any perceptions that the board as a whole had any opportunity to “stack the deck.”

Reasserting his desire to avoid any possible contentions, accusations, or ideas of any bias or manipulation due to anything perceived, Paris went on to say, “Perception is everything.”

While no hard schedule was set into the approval, some discussion on the impact this revisit could have on the six month moratorium indicated that the board is hoping to have the revisit completed somewhere close to the next three to four months. This would mean the board is hoping for a quick set up and turnaround for its committees. Paris also noted he wants the plan to become a current, up-to-date, plan for the commissioners to use as a citizen created guidepost into the future.

A unanimous decision supported the revisit and the county is moving forward with the process in December.

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