Citizens question county's decision to develop protected Greenspace land

News 12 at 11 / Monday, October 7, 2013

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW) -- Columbia County is at odds with some of its citizens over what to do about a certain piece of property.

It's a piece of land that, according to documents News 12 obtained, is part of the Greenspace program. That means it can't be developed.

But, as News 12's Christie Ethridge reports, the county is working to make a deal to develop some of that land, in exchange, saving the taxpayers money. But, not everyone is happy about it.

"I think Greenspace, once designated, should not be able to be rezoned back into commercial," Silverlake homeowner Earl Lorenzen said.

Surrounded by commercial stores, the property right in front of the Silverlake subdivision looks like a piece of forgotten land, but actually the naturally wooded area is protected Greenspace.

"That means it's reserved for that use. It's basically that it can't be built on or anything," Columbia County Commissioner Ron Cross explained.

That's what's supposed to happen, but in order to widen Washington Road, Columbia County had to gain the rights to "right of way" in some areas. So, it made a deal with a neighboring self storage business, an exchange of .13 acres of the Greenspace land to waive the cost of the right of way acquisition.

"In this case, it seems, to offer him less than a 10th of an acre to expand his driveway and access to his buildings in exchange for $38,000 was a pretty good deal," Cross reasoned.

Cross also reminds it's a cost that would have come out of taxpayers' pockets.

"We thought that was in the best interest of the tax payers and the common good," he said.

Lorenzen, however, doesn't agree, saying, "I think it's tremendously inappropriate."

He says it's about the precedent. He argues if you make an exception to this land, what's stopping them from giving up more Greenspace?

"That is the biggest problem if they can do it to a postage stamp size, they can do it to any parcel land that's been designated Greenspace and use it as the county decides to be fit," Lorenzen said.

It's an opinion he shares with at least 70 other families. Lorenzen started a petition against touching the Greenspace land.

"We asked they give us consideration because they are setting a precedent for this county, for the state, and for the nation, and this certainly could come back and haunt the county in the future," he said.

Even though Lorenzen doesn't agree, the county says they have approval from all 3 Greenspace property owners to give up that 10th of an acre and, legally, that's all they need.

Commissioner Ron Cross promises this decision will not create a trend of destroying protected Greenspace. In fact, he says the goal is to make 20 percent of the county Greenspace protected.

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