Last week we reported that the planning commission is studying possible tougher rules for RVs which appear would also apply to Tiny Homes – those popular, (at least in the digital world) cute structures, often built on trailer bodies.
The gist of the preliminary discussion was that people living permanently in RVs usually leads to problems. The planning commission discussed how they could give a temporary pass for people living in campers while their permanent home is under construction. Otherwise, people need to reside in RVs only in fully-regulated campgrounds and, even then, they need to crank up and take a trip once every 90 days.
Rodney Buckingham, the county director of planning, said this is being ignored by people who have added permanent additions to what are intended as vehicles. Commission members noted this is a national trend. A search online confirms what the commission saw looming. Glamorized “#vanlife” and Tiny Home advocates extol the virtues of a life without permanent walls or a lengthy mortgage.
For anyone who has not been on a dealer’s lot, RVs can be expensive. The small, but very nice, Winnebago Revel starts at $134,000. And like anything you can certainly spend as much as you want for the big behemoths.
Or, RVs can be found cheap. Used models are listed with prices of $10,000 or less. In north Georgia, where empty and affordable rental housing is as elusive as credible Bigfoot evidence, people - even families - may be tempted to view an RV as their only option.
Simply put, people need to respect neighboring properties and have their sewage handled properly, but let’s not be too quick to shut down a line of housing that could alleviate the shortage of affordable homes here.
As to whether you would rather have on your street an apartment complex or a Tiny Home development or RV park is a tough question to answer without seeing the details of each. This is what we advocate our local governing authorities do: be flexible, look at the details and think outside the stick-built-box.
As presented by the regional commission, the state of Georgia generally frowns upon housing other than the normal stick-built home. Inspections guidelines don’t offer much leeway for creativity, especially not for something smaller.
The first response from code writers like the regional commission regarding their preference for traditional housing comes down to safety. The state doesn’t want people to live in unsafe conditions – if it is new housing, that is. A glaring discrepancy is that older homes can be firetraps with rotten steps and exposed wiring and no one ever inspects, which makes the safety argument ring a bit hollow. There is also a related argument that if you own land in America and want to build your home from straw, sticks or bricks, you should be free to do so, but we’ll leave that point to deeper thinkers.
For now, we simply ask our planning commission to be broad-minded and open to different takes on what constitutes a legal residence. Similar to their hard work developing forthcoming codes for event venues, the planning commission should recognize there is a lot of difference between one property to the next and rigid rules won’t work.
It’s hard to support a government telling the owner of a well-made Tiny Home and 10 acres of wooded property that they can’t live on their own land – assuming they meet sewage requirements. But, it seems reasonable that the county/city codes should prevent someone from parking a 20-year-old camper in the middle of a crowded residential area and announcing “We’re Home.”
Instead of forcing iron-clad rules onto the books, our planning commission should follow their own example with venues and work to develop criteria, but at the same time recognize unique situations abound with the difference in lot sizes, locations, building plans and landowners’ desires.
The rule of law here broke down with Jasper city council’s no-decision on a basic annexation request last week. The lack of a motion to accept (or even to decline) a 2.73 acre parcel along Highway 515 into the city limits smells capricious and arbitrary.
Further, it sets a bad precedent and sends the wrong message to the development industry.
For decades the city has operated by accepting parcels into their corporate boundaries with few stipulations. The only practical requirements are that the parcel borders existing city property; the owner had to request it (no one was ever forced in); and some compatible zoning was put in place. Zoning decisions are subjective and this leads to legitimate disagreements, but annexations were cut and dry matters. There was no threshold for acceptance, if you wished to be annexed into Jasper, you were – at least before last week.
It’s been a fair system for commercial property. If you need sewage, then you must be in the city limits and pay city taxes.
What the council has done is upend that system, setting a new protocol that the five elected members will judge what properties are fit to be in Jasper and what are not.
It is akin to the department of motor vehicles allowing personal judgment to determine who gets a driver’s license.
Imagine a driver’s license office manager saying, “That well-dressed young man gets a license today, but that seedy-looking dude doesn’t.” And this is what the council has done with their lack of a motion.
Making the whole matter more suspicious, the property in question appears a solid fit into the city limits with the commercial zoning requested. It is surrounded by Jasper jurisdiction, near a convenience store. The developer said he plans to put in a restaurant, a business that could operate next to a convenience store under the proposed zoning. So not only would the annexation be routine but even the zoning shouldn’t raise eyebrows.
In any event, it’s not the government’s place to filter out which businesses they want and which they don’t want based on personal preferences. What they are charged with is seeing that reasonable codes are in place and enforced fairly and uniformly.
The problem may have been (as claimed by the mayor and the developer) a grudge or distrust of the developer by the council. As anyone who follows local news knows, developer David Shouse is involved in a pending lawsuit over the council’s denial of rezoning for another of his properties for apartments. He was also behind the whole “adult entertainment” hoax sign put up on yet another of his properties – probably not the shrewdest move for someone seeking to do business in the city and run for commission chair but neither the lawsuit, nor the sign, and certainly not his campaign, justify the council’s skirting standard operating procedure.
It’s possible there is more to this story than meets the eye. As close readers may recall, the council didn’t actually vote down the annexation. They didn’t make any motion, nor any public comment on why they wouldn’t render a decision – effectively they killed it without wishing to take any responsibility.
That’s doesn’t fly and that’s where we fear collateral damage and poor precedent were set. If they had issued a statement saying they were voting no because of some reason, even if people disagreed with their reasoning, it gives some logic to this apparently illogical move.
Instead it’s hard not to be left with the surface impression: The council wouldn’t allow an outspoken developer to have a piece of appropriate property brought into the city limits. Now, who is going to invest in commercial real estate bordering Jasper when it appears that if you rub the council wrong, you are denied access to city infrastructure?
The council needs to remedy or explain what appears to be personal feelings thwarting fair treatment of all property owners.
Dear PHS class of 2019:
Graduation Day - the day you’ve dreamed of for so long - is here. After all the studying, the tests, the football and basketball games, the drama, the break-ups and the make-ups, it’s finally here. More than 280 students will take their last walk across Dragon Stadium field Saturday during the commencement ceremony - and what a day it will be.
A high school graduation is a particularly special moment in the lives of students and their families. Parents’ chests swell with pride as they watch their child in cap and gown receive that diploma, an accomplishment their kids have been working towards since kindergarten.
Graduates, you have every right to bask in the moment, but on your special day remember the folks who have been in your corner supporting you every step of the way - the parents, the teachers, the administrations, and your friends.
And graduates, as you accept your diplomas, remember the world needs your energy and your unique skills and passions, and we hope as you grow into adults you choose to be kind, caring, and inclusive, because right now we need good people in this world.
Deborah Roberts, a 1982 graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, gave the school’s commencement speech earlier this month. Roberts told UGA graduates to “look for the goodness in people, and in situations. You can’t find yourself if you aren’t able to look for and find the kindness and common ground in something else. You don’t have to agree with everyone you meet, but if you are to learn and grow you need to practice ‘radical compassion.’ Class of 2019, you are stepping into a world that can use a lot of radical compassion right now.”
Roberts said we are in challenging times filled with “tension, anxiety, polarization,” and that “people are afraid to share their thoughts for fear they are going to be misunderstood, or blamed or labeled in some negative way.”
She urged graduates to talk to people without fear, and told them that to develop compassion we need to connect with others in real ways. Step away from those devices and do some real connecting - not on Facebook - but in real life.
“Make a point to meet people who don’t look like you or think like you,” Roberts said. “You may learn something new if you’re willing to open your eyes and open your heart.”
When you stepped on campus for the first time as freshmen you may have been nervous, anxious, and scared of what was to come, of how you would fit in and who you would hang out with. On Saturday you should realize you took that puzzle and figured it out - but the puzzle doesn’t stop there. High school is a teen-sized litmus test for the rest of your adult life - sometimes it goes well, other times it doesn’t, but you can get through the challenges, learn from them, and move on to a better life.
Even though striving for the top and those big dreams is important, the reality is most people don’t end up being CEOs or pro athletes. Most people are the I-just-want-to-live-my-simple-life-and-love-my-life kind of folks. Remember, greatness isn’t necessarily having a top job at a top company. Greatness is reaching out to friends in need. Greatness is those who go out of their way to be thoughtful when no one is looking - the unsung heroes. If there’s anything to take from your graduation ceremony, remember that to leave a legacy and to achieve greatness is not to leave piles of money or have public recognition, it’s to leave those you cross paths with a little more happiness along the way. Your time at PHS will not be remembered by grades, popularity, likes or favorites, but by relationships - the kind of person you were. These are the legacies we should leave.
Congratulations to the Class of 2019 from the Progress staff.
Our state capitol has been in Atlanta long enough. It’s time for a change, down to middle Georgia to spread the growth to new areas of the Peach State and relieve some of the congestion in the metro area.
This is not that revolutionary of an idea. Consider that Georgia has already had five capitols; why not six?
When the first seat of colonial rule was established in 1754, Savannah served as capitol. At that time, routine court matters such as divorce and name changes required a trip to the state capitol and Savannah was too far to the south from the bulk of the state, so in 1785, the capitol was moved to Augusta where it remained for a decade before it was judged too far to the east.
A new city, Louisville in Jefferson County, was created on 1,000 acres purchased and designed to be like Philadelphia – specifically to become the state’s seat of power. Louisville, like Augusta, only served as the capitol for a decade. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia online, it fell out of favor possibly over malaria concerns.
Milledgeville then took its turn as the capitol from 1807 through the Civil War. The legislature initially budgeted $60,000 to build a new capitol building. But then after the war, they packed up and followed the growth tied to railways to Atlanta where several major rail lines merged. They used one of the trains to load up the furnishings and paintings in Milledgeville and depart for Atlanta. We could use these same lines to send the legislature’s furnishings back to the south.
The simple fact is Atlanta and its surrounding metro area have gotten too big to hold our state government and all our biggest companies and our sports teams and our urban tourist destinations, plus the roughly half-million people who call the city home.
It’s time to spread the wealth around. State leaders from Governor Brian Kemp to the representatives and senators all express concern that Atlanta is the state’s King Kong growth machine – very healthy, on the move, but completely out-of-control. This white hot growth in one city while the the rest of the state finds economic development a tough row to hoe is proving an intractable problem.
Census figures from the past year show that Atlanta grew to almost half a million people, but more than one-third of Georgia’s small towns lost population. The big cities got bigger and their industries grew, while small cities shrank in population and vitality.
Former capitol Louisville is one of those declining areas. It’s population was only 2,493 at the 2010 census, down from 2,712 at the 2000 census.
The state can’t dictate that private business move out of Atlanta, but they can look for new real estate themselves. If they moved the government seat to nearer the center of the state, it would make it more accessible to all Georgians.
Moving state government out of Atlanta to a convenient, but less crowded area, would spread the economic growth. State employees, lobbyists and related service jobs would be a boon for a rural area.
Certainly, the move would be expensive and inconvenient for state employees with roots in Atlanta but that is what being a public servant is all about – putting the needs of the private sector and citizens over government employees.
Atlanta has gotten to serve as the capitol for 151 and we could give them another decade to complete the move but, if the top state officials are serious about creating economic opportunity for all Georgians, this is a way to put their money where their mouths are.
It’s about fairness for all areas of the state. Atlanta doesn’t need to get everything.Plus taking pressure of the metro-area roads would be a huge favor to the rest of the half million people who call the ATL home.
Billionaire investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith made national news for his gift to Morehouse College students at their recent commencement ceremony. Smith told the 396 graduates he planned to pay off their student debts. According to The New York Times, the average college senior owes $29,000 so his gift will make a tremendous impact to those students and their families.
The Morehouse graduating class was spared decades of monthly payments (approximately $40 million dollars worth). But more than money, Smith, in his address, told the class it would “allow them to more quickly go toward with what they are passionate about.”
This, he said, is where “you can make your greatest contribution to the world.”
Smith said he wanted students to understand that part of receiving his gift is they think about taking care of the people behind them when they are able.
And while Smith’s level of paying it forward is out of reach for most of us, we can all take that same sentiment and make an impact on others in meaningful ways. Whether volunteering our time, mentoring a person, donating to a cause we’re passionate about, or committing random acts of kindness, the ways we can contribute to those around us are truly endless.
Generosity is human nature. Most of us, at some point, either paid it forward to someone else or benefited from the random kindness of a stranger. Whether we paid for someone’s cup of coffee behind us in line at McDonalds, donated blood, or just listened to someone who needed to talk, in that moment we reminded ourselves and others that the world is actually filled with selfless, generous, and kind people.
It’s a nice feeling - and one small act can turn your day around while helping someone else have a better day. And paying it forward encourages the recipient to be kinder and more compassionate to others as well.
Consider the story of the woman who decided to perform 48 acts of kindness within 48 hours in honor of her 48th birthday. Most of the beneficiaries were strangers. She left voice mails of poetry. She sent a book to a recent divorcee. A teenager who had just lost his job received an iTunes gift card.
In all, she spent $150 of birthday gift money during her pay-it-forward project - and gained an invaluable present for herself in the process.
The woman, according to the Forbes article she was featured in, said she realized how much unconditional love she could feel for people she didn’t know.
“It changed my whole outlook on life. I realized that I don’t ever need to feel lonely or unloved - I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.”
Paying it forward creates a sense of connectedness and positivity. When we feel connected to each other, we are kinder, more patient and more supportive. We take better care of our communities and even think more collectively as opposed to individualistically.
And while the Robert Smiths of the world get the media attention, know that we all have the ability to help others one cup of coffee at a time.
So while we hope someone shows up at next week’s PHS graduation and offers to pay for every graduate’s college, we also wish for the not-so-grand, everyday acts of kindness that help people in smaller ways every single day.
For in the words of Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”