Valdosta Daily Times

December 5, 2012

County disagrees with proposed zoning amendment

Paulk: Military intervention could prevent development near base

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ashley Paulk defended the long-time landowners with holdings around Moody Air Force Base Tuesday, declaring that the military is taking the right to sell from these  property-owners through an “unconstitutional” influence over proposed county legislation.

The Greater Lowndes Planning Commission proposed a text amendment to the Unified Land Development Code in November that would reduce lot density restrictions from 2.5 acres to one acre, allowing landowners within the Moody Activity Zoning (MAZ) district “more flexibility” to parcel off their land holdings, Paulk said.

But the Department of Defense, through representatives from Moody, expressed concerns that the change in the ULDC would lead to encroachment issues that could possibly shut down the base. These concerns were supported by the Economic Development and Taxation Policy Committee, a subcommittee of the Government Affairs Council under The Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce during a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The Committee officially decided to not recommend support of the text amendment to the GAC Executive Committee, which will make the final decision on the Chamber's position on this issue.

Representatives from Moody explained that the air space above the MAZ, in which military pilots are allowed to operate, poses a certain risk for residents within that zone. Engine noise from USAF planes flying missions in the zone also poses certain risks and concerns, the representatives explained further.

When residential development encroaches onto this operational air space, more often military operations are shut down rather than residential communities.

Robert Jefferson, who spoke on behalf of Moody, said when the military considers air bases for training missions or any other operations, it considers the ability to make last-minute adjustments to that mission such as altitude. The proposed text amendment could create County legislation that would be more prohibitive to such adjustments, leading to a gradual lack of government interest in the base.

"That's what closes a base—encroachment," Jefferson said. "The MAZ is extremely important to Moody. If we don't have the capability to adjust the mission, it limits us."

But Paulk's interest in the meeting was based on the citizens of Lowndes County, not those of the air base, which he said had been in the area since 1940, generations after the annexation of the residential holdings nearby. His disenchantment with Moody was doubled with their apparent lack of concern for the community that supports them, he explained.

The County's dealings with Moody and the DOD have been a "one-way street," Paulk said, calling their attempts to sway local government to their interests, and their handling of development issues, a "dog and pony show."

"The Air Force hasn't helped us," Paulk said. "It's not 'do as I say' with the Air Force. Moody says we can't build a subdivision, and they turn around and build one themselves in the same area."

Paulk alleged Moody's intervention has prevented development before—the establishment of a small schoolhouse within a church near the base, for example, he said. He told the committee that Moody had 30,000 acres to the east on which to build, and that the air base has become "privatized."

More than once, Moody developers appeared to prevent construction of residential communities, only to turn around and build military residential housing themselves, which are offered first to active duty military, second to retirees, and finally to civilians if the apartments cannot be filled, Paulk said, effectively crippling the private housing market.

"That one-way street gets to be a long way to travel," Paulk said.

Paulk argued with members of the Chamber on the issue for about 10 minutes before Ron Borders, who chaired the meeting, interrupted with a call for a motion. When no one made a motion, he motioned himself to recommend no support of the text amendment to the GAC Executive Committee, which was seconded and approved.