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Panel tweaks growth management suggestions
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Regional growth management partners on Tuesday reviewed a draft of final recommendations for handling anticipated growth throughout Bryan, Liberty, Long and Tattnall counties and Fort Stewart.

The draft recommendations focus on specific areas affected by growth including land use, workforce development, transportation, public services and education, and were suggested both by regional stakeholders and the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, which has helped drive the study for the past year.

One area that remains high on the list to be successfully managed and developed is regional housing. Stakeholders recommended a tracking system for housing trends and growth management data, and an additional implementation grant is being pursued to help the partnership take the reins to manage that data and provide it to area developers.

"As we went through the process we saw the need for this system, because of the challenges that came after the planned 5th Brigade was canceled," said Liz Drake of planning firm AECOM.

Drake said the study conducted found not only a surplus of housing but also a need for more diverse types of housing, and that in the future developers could benefit from access to market-based

ousing data to accommodate residents who live outside the gates of Fort Stewart, particularly as on-post housing availability changes.

"Initially and for the foreseeable future, the partnership will provide the data as it is available," said growth management partnership Director Jeff Ricketson.

In areas of the region where rural land stands ripe for development, recommendations for preserving that space while also providing desired housing types also made the list. Drake and Ricketson said efforts to separate rural and urban areas during development must happen partly through the application of regulatory tools such as zoning.

"Counties like Long have a rural landscape and this would allow them to have that open space and the development they want," Drake said.

"The goal is to avoid similar-looking developments, and when they grow, to grow in a way we see is compatible" with the type of resident or homebuyer who would be most attracted to a rural setting. Drake said such developments don’t have to look like the traditional two-acre lots to preserve space, but can actually be multi-family units with shared green space.

Other recommendations for future land-use planning address Bryan County stakeholders’ desire to create a stronger ‘sense of place’ by eventually creating an identity that includes a distinct downtown area and unifying the city through architectural elements and a focus on the city’s history as a Henry Ford town.

To fully understand the potential for growth, the study recommends regional entities improve their local planning capacity, primarily through the use of geographic information systems (GIS) to map areas of open space and "know where infrastructure opportunities will be for the regional community," Drake said.

Sean Martin, assistant director for the partnership, said the entity acknowledges it may not be feasible for individual municipalities to employ a full-time planner but the recommendation invites the possibility for such a position to be shared across the region. "One of the themes is to try and promote collaboration," Martin said.

That collaboration may well extend into the development of unified planning ordinances, which Drake said could prove challenging but could help ensure seamless development regionwide.

Education stakeholders played a significant role in developing recommendations as well. Between Fort Stewart and area school districts, entities expressed a desire for better communication regarding military families with children who qualify as Exceptional Family Members, a special-needs student population.

Martin said even though the post may not know where a family will enroll the student, making area districts aware of their upcoming arrival to the region helps districts prepare.

Long-term, stakeholders want to address class size and student-teacher ratios. As counties grow in population, they may experience struggles with supporting an influx of students that may occur between state funding cycles, Ricketson said.

This is especially true for areas like Long County, which typically supports a small student population, so even an increase in a couple hundred students could place a great strain on resources, he said. "Class size is a direct factor in budget constraints," Ricketson said.

Goals of stakeholders include ensuring schools maintain a good balance of students to teachers, and combining student populations rather than building new schools where possible.

Recommendations for workforce development include developing job fairs for military spouses and dependents. "Fort Stewart is a major part of who we are as a region and a community," Ricketson said. "[Soldiers and civilian workers] bring spouses needing employment. This is an attempt to provide them with that opportunity."

Though the possibility of turnover within the population is significant, Martin said employers who participated in the study "would exchange that risk of turnover to have the opportunity to have that employee."

Ricketson said residents will have the opportunity to provide input on the recommendations through a series of public hearings next month. A public forum for Liberty County is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 in the Liberty County Courthouse annex board room.


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