The divisions between town and country are still distinct in Madison County. That’s what we want to maintain. Keep town as town, country as country.
From all the zoning meetings I’ve sat through, I think it’s safe to say that most people feel that’s a good goal.
Danielsville leaders seemed really proud when the new Town Center opened, recognizing it as a quality, in-town business development. There are more eating and shopping options and more sales tax dollars kept in the county because Danielsville opened the door for that development.
You’d figure Comer leaders would be thrilled to get something similar. The Comer council was very enthusiastic about being included in the county’s recent sales tax renewal, which cut a piece of the SPLOST pie for each municipality in the county. There were two formulas considered for that division of money between the cities. And with the clock running out on getting a referendum in place, Comer took the lead on establishing the way taxes were divided. Comer ended up with a healthier portion of the sales tax pie than Danielsville, leaving some in the county seat pretty upset. Meanwhile, Comer leaders said they did what had to be done to make sure cities got anything at all, since the county waited till the last minute on setting up the referendum.
All that said, Comer leaders certainly recognize the value of sales tax money. So, they surely see a lot of worth in a commercial development with eight new businesses, something that will bring in a heavy trickle of pennies over the years to Comer and the county. Right?
They surely see that the new brick shopping center on the corner of Gholston Street (Hwy. 98) and Hwy. 72 is no used car lot. Right?
It’s aesthetically pleasing. It will bring jobs to the county during a down economy. It gives us shopping and dining options. It fits in with the county’s big picture of land use planning.
Drive through downtown Watkinsville and look at the stately brick structures with numerous shops and interesting dining options, then look at “The Markets” development in Comer. There’s a strong similarity.
Oconee County has been fairly successful in attracting business, while also hanging on to its rural roots. Of course, we can point out plenty of sprawling growth in north Georgia that makes many of us sick inside.
But “The Markets” development seems like an appropriate counterpoint to those nice old, brick buildings on the other side of Hwy. 72 in Comer. The structure itself seems like solid evidence of an earnest commitment to a town. Efforts toward solid, in-town growth bode well for Madison County’s future.
Of course, the Comer Council took “The Markets” developer Tim Seymour all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court over his haunted house in Comer. Little Leaguers were knocking the spring dirt off their shoes, their candy long gone, as the council was carrying their Halloween fight to the highest court in the state. Maybe this was fighting the good fight for zoning idealism. But I’d say most folks would call the Supreme Court’s consideration of “ghouls vs. zoning codes” a case of “losing perspective.”
And some of those who have objected to the Comer’s treatment of Seymour on “The Markets” say the city has lost perspective again, transferring bad feelings about the haunted house to the new shopping center and quibbling over minutia in city codes rather than recognizing the good the development will bring to the city.
Whatever the council’s motives are toward Seymour, those members certainly showed a lack of perspective Monday night when they shut the door on a crowd that gathered at city hall to support Seymour’s development. The agenda included a call to order, approval of minutes, an “executive session” and “other business.”
The agenda could have read: “Hello, now you must leave so we can talk, OK, you can come back, good night.”
Seymour and building inspector Jim Baird were allowed to speak. No one else was given permission.
If there was a Holy Bible of good governance, the first commandment would surely be: “thou shalt listen.”
Some governing bodies never meet in closed session; a few look for any opportunity. Many invite public comment; a few fantasize of whipping out a horse muzzle. Even when things get ugly, government should listen to the people who put them there, using procedure to maintain order but not suppress all talk. Comer needs to see this.
Anyway, perhaps this long saga between Seymour and the council is drawing to a close. The developer ultimately got a certificate of occupancy Tuesday morning, which will allow him to move forward with work in the building.
Hopefully, the ugliness is over and local residents will soon have more places to go in Madison County’s most populated town.
Yes, country needs to stay country; town should remain town. But Madison County folks need places to go in town.
And that town doesn’t always need to be Athens.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
As an attendee of the subject council meeting (Mitcham did not attend but sent a reporter instead), it should be noted that neither Seymour nor any of his "supporters" (later some told me they did not come in anyone's support but out of curiosity) was so intent on speaking as to actually get onto the agenda. That option is open to anyone who wants to speak. Public meetings usually follow rules, and the process of forming an agenda in advance should be well enough known. The speaking that was done was allowed by the Mayor after Council suspended rules. It was done as a "favor" to Mr. Seymour.