Rural rezoning frustrates residents

Bryce Ethridge | The Valdosta Daily TimesA crowd left in anger and disappointment with Lowndes County commissioners in wake of the approval of a rezoning request. This request had the crowd worried about a change in the character of rural area where they live, potential tax increases and trust in their commissioners.

NOTE: This story was updated to reflect District 5 Commissioner Clay Griner made the motion to approve the rezoning, which was then seconded by District 2 Commissioner Scott Orenstein.

VALDOSTA – Lowndes County District 2 residents expressed their frustration and even a sense of betrayal Tuesday evening when the county commission rezoned property in their rural community.

District 2 Commissioner Scott Orenstein, who lives in the district, took the brunt of the criticism from the crowd that opposed the 3-2 vote of approval for the controversial rezoning request headlining the Lowndes County Commission meeting this week. 

The action rezoned 5999 Val Del Road from Residential Agricultural (R-A) to Low-Density Residential (R-1), subdividing the area to a “greater density,” allowing 73 subdivided lots.

A site plan attached to the rezoning request proposes four bedroom homes with two and three-car garages at an average size of 1,900 square feet or more with wells and septic tanks. 

At least 20 of the housing lots are expected to be greater than one acre.

Chuck Dunmon, a nearby resident, said the county’s comprehensive plan should keep urban developments like this closer to urban areas, maintaining the integrity of rural areas.

This rezoing goes against that philosophy, residents said. It allows the development of a 73-lot subdivision in the middle of a rural area.

Dunmon and his family live eight miles outside of Valdosta city limits and one mile south of the Cook County line; however, he is worried about his rural status.

“How far do I have to be to maintain my rural status,” he asked the Commission.

The Greater Lowndes Planning Commission had a similar concern. When its members first reviewed the request in September, they found it “inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.”

The current rural character and rural land use pattern in the area, the existing zoning pattern and existing land use pattern are some of the factors the Planning Commission considered. Stormwater runoff, well and septic viability, potential spot zoning and the precedence of requesting a change in the character of area were other aspects discussed.

Consequently, the Planning Commission recommended the denial of the rezoning request in a 7-2 vote, prior to the commission's approval. 

John Quarterman, a Quarterman Road resident, said he was glad to see the Planning Commission’s and the County Planning/Zoning staff had recommended denial.

Quarterman proposed a question: What happens if the septic tanks on these homes start to fail?

“We’ll hear an outcry: 'We’ve got to have county water extended all the way to this subdivision which will put further pressure on all landowners nearby because they’re taxes will go up,'” he said.

Character areas matter, he said, and it should stay as it is.

Val Del Road resident Sharon Respess said Lowndes County should follow the advice of its professional planners, suggesting that not doing so will degrade and damage nearby properties.

Steve Daugherty, a nearby resident, spoke in favor of the request as a devil’s advocate. He said residents cannot stop Lowndes County from growing because it’s inevitable. While he said he thinks residents and the commission needs to listen to the recommendations of the planning commission, they also need to review all requests to see if they are viable. 

Hearing the public, Mark Wisenbaker, District 3 commissioner, made a motion to deny the rezoning request but his motion failed for the lack of a second.

District 5 Commissioner Clay Griner motioned to approve, seconded by District 3 Commissioner Scott Orenstein.

In the 3-2 vote, the request was approved with Orenstein, Griner and District 4 Commissioner Demarcus Marshall in favor.

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