By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
County sends CRC east end comp plan changes for review
liberty logo
The LCEMA meeting will be at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.

Liberty County commissioners unanimously approved sending for review an amendment to its comprehensive plan that will spell out just how far industrial development is expected to go.

The amendment to the comp plan includes changes to the future land use map and character area map for the portion of the county east of I-95 and to the five-year work plan.

Work on the amendments started four months ago. The first of two required public hearings was held October 4 and two town hall meetings were held at the Dorchester Civic Center. The first of those town hall meetings drew more than 100 people.

E ast end residents continued to plead with commissioners to curtail or put the brakes on industrial development east of I-95.

“You’ve heard our complaints. You’ve heard our concerns,” said resident Ashley Mosier. “There have been questions that have been asked but no answers.”

Ronda Durney questioned the safety of residents along Islands Highway, especially if first responders aren’t able to get through to them because of the traffic.

“None of us can figure out how we’re supposed to get out of our homes and over that overpass with all of that truck traffic,” she said. “How are we supposed to get out? A traffic light is just going to back everything up. I can’t imagine when you’ve got 10-, 15-, 20,000 vehicles coming out of there.

“I am very concerned about first responders getting out there,” Durney continued. “There are things that should be done before these businesses are allowed to do their business.”

Commissioners are working on an agreement that will have future developers bear a share of the cost for improvements, such as road and safety upgrades, in that area.

There is no further expansion of industrial zoning along Islands Highway under the proposed comp plan changes. Widening of Islands Highway to just past Brigdon Road, a distance of a of a little more than two and a half miles, is expected to take place.

All the area from just past two and a half miles east of the I-95 interchange at Highway 84 to the water’s edge will remain unchanged from the comp plan, finished in 2016, Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission executive director Jeff Ricketson said.

Among the changes commissioners are looking at include turning the area between Tradeport East and I-95 and between Tradeport East and Jones Creek into a town center development, a mixture of residential, commercial and hospitality building.

An area once discussed for a casino has been rezoned as industrial, as has some land around Dorchester Village Road.

The amendments to the comp plan recommend buffers to provide existing neighborhoods and agricultural tracts a barrier against light and sound from adjacent uses.

“That’s an area that needs special care as we go forward with future development to make sure the overall rural character of Islands Highway is preserved,” Ricketson said.

There also is scattered single-family residential in the area, and the plan calls for leaving Dorchester Village Road as scattered residential.

“We’re trying to preserve the integrity of the existing character of that area,” he said.

Ricketson pointed out the wetlands and marshlands that are prevalent east of I-95 and that the plan’s amendments call for ways to preserve those.

“Nothing outside of those lines will be considered for industrial development,” county commission Chairman Donald Lovette said.

Bridging I-95 A town center development, though, will be bring more traffic and county officials are looking for ways to improve the overpass across I-95.

Also, a widening of Islands Highway from I-95 to just past Brigdon Road carries a $25 million price tag. Local revenues, along with state money and proceeds from developer agreements, could be used for that stretch.

While a traffic study is expected to be finished at the end of the month, engineer Trent Long said they have gathered enough information from it to see how much in fees can be assigned to developers.

Long said the county also is looking at a second traffic light along Islands Highway at Dorchester Village Road. The distance between the two signals on Islands Highway will be enough to satisfy requirements.

“We’re looking hard at this intersection,” he said. “We look at signal timing, how long your queue lines are, what your delays are so you can get an acceptable level of service.”

Long said in his talks with state Department of Transportation representatives, they asked for a traffic impact assessment for the I-95 and Islands Highway intersection.

“We need to do something for this bridge because we need additional lanes,” he said. “Ultimately, we need another way to get over I-95 and get to the west side across 95. No one denies we need another route over 95 desperately and we need more lanes over 95 now.”

Lovette also urged officials to begin making the county’s current northernmost exit on I-95 into an economic engine.

“We have the opportunity to make an investment at our interchange and at Tradeport East,” he said. “Our community leaders made the decision three to four years ago to develop this low-producing interchange. The Richmond Hill exit produces 60-70% of their sales tax revenue in all of Bryan County. It’s time we take advantage of our exit.”

Lovette also noted that a travel center on the westside of I-95 has been announced.

“This is only the beginning,” he said. “We can either embrace it, or we can let the progress pass us by.”

Chairman’s response

Lovette also rebutted comments from residents on the dangers of truck traffic and that many of the jobs in Tradeport East are taken up by out-ofcounty residents.

“The questions of how many Liberty County residents are employed has been raised,” he said. “Liberty County tags are parked at Gulfstream, JCB and Georgia Ports, to name a few.”

The new Hyundai plant in north Bryan County expects to draw employees from a 50-mile radius, which includes Liberty County, Lovette added.

Lovette said he spoke with Stacy Watson from the Georgia Ports Authority and even with 15,000 trucks a day in and out of the port, there have been no emissions violations and no violations for carcinogens.

Lovette also asserted that Tradeport East is not the cause of any flooding down Islands Highway and that the county fire department is adequately prepared to provide fire protection.

Lovette also pointed out that further development cannot take place without needed water and sewer capacity. The county and cities have been in talks about how to find the water and sewer resources that future development will need.

“There are some fences that need to be mended with some of these municipalities to get this water,” Commissioner Marion Stevens, whose district includes the east end, said.

Ricketson also noted that developers’ projects won’t go forward if the water capacity does not exist.

“Infrastructure is not there now but nor is the development there now,” Lovette said. “Growth won’t happen if the water and sewer are there. Without that, it won’t happen. But I’m at peace with moving forward knowing there is still heavy lifting to do. If not us, who, if not now, when. The key is on our hands. I think we need to move forward.”

The LCPC also took 87 comments online and 49 in writing. The LCPC board members voted 5-3 to recommend the proposed amendments.

County commissioners took up the matter at their January 3 meeting in order to get those changes submitted to the Coastal Regional Commission for review. Commissioners can adopt the amendment, making it part of the 2040 comp plan, once the CRC review is completed.

Sign up for our e-newsletters