CHEROKEE COUNTY — A group of Cherokee County residents have spearheaded talks between county and city officials on ways to better align their strategies to control development and growth.
The group Preserve Cherokee has initiated a meeting of county officials Oct. 20 to discuss growth boundaries between cities within Cherokee and the county, and the potential to coordinate land-use plans between the entities.
The meeting, which could include a quorum of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Cherokee County Airport’s Terminal Conference Room, 1350 Bishop Road, Ball Ground.
Commission Chairman Harry Johnston has confirmed his attendance, and other county and city officials have been invited.
Amid a string of annexation requests in recent years from county property into various cities, Johnston said he is eager to create a dialogue between the county and its cities on “smart growth.”
City mayors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“I’m happy to have an opportunity to work with the cities and see if we can come to a better agreement about how growth and development will take place in the county and have a more orderly plan and consolidated plan, if at all possible,” he said.
There are two main strategies that could be used in that endeavor, Johnston said.
Cities like Holly Springs, Woodstock, Ball Ground and others can agree to growth boundaries with the county, similar to one in place for Canton. Essentially, Johnston said, these boundaries serve as a line in the sand for growth from cities outward into county properties. Within these agreements, the county agrees not to object to any annexation within the border while city officials agree not to annex land outside of it.
These agreements aren’t legally binding, Johnson said, but they are effective when both the county and a city are on board with the plan.
“We’ve had them in the past with other cities, but they’ve always had a five-year expiration date, and they all have currently expired,” he said.
Another way to ensure smarter growth is for the county and cities to align their land-use plans. If that work is completed, a rezoning case on any property would carry a similar use regardless of whether it was annexed into a city or stayed within the county, Johnston said.
“In that case, it doesn’t really matter if (a property) is annexed or not because, in theory, it would be the same sort of development,” he said.
Some developers request an annexation on a property that shares a border with a city — or create a string of several parcels that are adjacent to city limits — and then seek annexation to be subjected to that city’s growth and development management plans instead of the county’s, which Johnston suggested are more stringent.
Those cases can lead to undesirable, intense or scattered development.
Johnston believes two areas within Cherokee that are examples of why some sort of agreement or cooperation between the county and cities for growth are needed: Highway 92 east of Woodstock and in Holly Springs near the Hickory Flat community.
The Commission Chairman said there is a “checkerboard” of county land and Woodstock parcels east along Highway 92 nearly to the county border in which developers received “what they wanted” by annexation into Woodstock.
Johnston said a similar issue has arisen in Holly Springs, where “inappropriate” annexations near Hickory Flat have “thwarted” the county’s attempts at smarter growth.
While potentially problematic annexations have slowed in recent years, the issue can still come to a head, Johnston said.
“It hasn’t been a big problem recently, but we still see the effects of it, especially in Hickory Flat and Highway 92,” Johnston said. “The citizens are very concerned about it. I’m still very concerned about it in the long term because it could happen again. So, we’d like to find a way to work together, the cities and county, and prevent that in the future. Both sides will maybe have to give a little if that may be possible, but I think it is possible.”
Creating cohesion between the cities and county for smart growth is also vital, Johnston says, as Cherokee continues to grow.
“Cherokee County is one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia, among larger counties, it’s the second-fastest only to Forsyth,” he said. “Many of us think we are growing a little too fast, that we are struggling to keep up with infrastructure, we’re risking adversely affecting the quality of life that really makes people want to move here in the first place.”