Editor’s note- These newly proposed ordinances do not establish an HOA in the city. The proposed ordinances resemble HOA-like rules according to many that have voiced concerns at various public meetings. Former planning commission members have also said the same about the newly proposed ordinances. The ordinances apply to the entire city of St Marys, not just downtown. 

St. Marys citizens have organized against major zoning and building ordinances that resemble homeowners’ association (HOA) like rules. Planning Chairman, Mike Rich, knowingly planned to leave the city permanently while facilitating the development of the controversial ordinances. According to real estate webites, his home has been on the market for over 50 days.

Citizens unite, and groups respond –

Last week, St. Marys citizens organized a petition addressed to the Planning Commission to stop the restrictive and broad-reaching ordinances, particularly those ordinances that address vehicle storage and city densification. Citizens quickly organized a Facebook group. Within 48 hours of being created, the group had over 600 people. The Facebook group is called “City of St. Marys Proposed Building & Zoning Ordinances: NO.” The group now has over 900 members.

Vickie Barwick, one of the members of the Facebook group, said the site has helped inform citizens and united them on one cause – saving the “quaint town” of St. Marys.

“City of St. Marys Proposed Building and Zoning Ordinances: NO – site has helped to wake up and band together with the citizens of St. Marys to try and vote down the restrictive high-density building and HOA style ordinances that had previously been voted down by the previous Planning Commission,” said Barwick.

A barrage of concerns from creating a challenging business climate to stormwater management was addressed in many public comments leading up the public comment closing date of June 8th.  According to the organizers of the petition, it is reported that over 780 individual petitions have been collected to send to St. Marys City Hall and more comments are expected to continue until the June 14th Special Called meeting of the Planning Commission.

One of the many, and similar comments, updated (as of June 7th) on the Community Development page reads as follows:

“I think there needs to be improvements to our little town but not these new zoning proposals there are some things in the new zoning proposal I agree with but a lot I don’t agree with #1 high-density housing. We have friends and family that live in St.Augustine Fla. 20 some odd years ago they went to a similar zoning change and now they regret it.” – David Earl & Melissa B. Strickland

A petition in this instance cannot formally stop the vote of the Planning Commission.

Other groups and individuals have sent in comments and posted them publicly.  The St Marys River Management Committee (SMRMC). According to the committee’s statement, the group is a quasi-governmental advisory group whose goal is to promote and protect the long-term viability of both the environmental and economic resources of the St. Marys River in a way that retains local control.

SMRMC is concerned the high-density lot sizes and would stress St. Marys’ water management infrastructure. “The City has not fully implemented their 2008 Stormwater Management Plan and it is already in need of updating,” said the statement. “Standing water throughout the City following storms indicates that the current infrastructure is not functioning properly.”

SMRMC also applauded the use of pervious surfaces that would allow water to enter the ground but warns of the cost of such surfaces to the taxpayers.

“There is no provision for maintenance for any low-impact development approaches as part of the Zoning Ordinances,” said the statement. SMRMC further advocates for a contingency fund for developers who do not maintain such pervious surfaces.

AllOnGeorgia-Camden conducted an online non-scientific poll, where 96 percent said they were not in favor of the proposed ordinances. Over 300 votes were taken in the non-scientific poll.

Citizens feel disenfranchised by appointed Board Chair & consultant – 

AllOnGeorgia-Camden learned that Planning Commission Chair, Mike Rich, is selling his Osprey Cove home in St. Marys and plans to leave the community entirely. AllOnGeorgia-Camden reached out to Mr. Rich via phone and asked him about his plans to leave the community. Rich was also asked if he thought it was fair to lead and vote on the development of the newly proposed ordnances knowing that he would be leaving the community.

“That is public. We are leaving, and I have sold my house. I am not going to comment on that now. Any comment that I would make, with respect to that, I would do when the Commission is in an open public session,” said Rich. “I understand the comments that you have told me about and I have looked at the conflict of interest issues under Georgia law. The only way I will address that is in an open public session.”

Vickie Barwick wrote in an email to AllOnGeorgia-Camden that Rich should recuse himself from the vote on June 14th.

“Mike Rich, the chairman, will be moving so I believe he should recuse himself from voting since he will not be having to live under these restrictions. People are coming out in force to object to these ordinances at the next 2 meetings on June 14 @ 6 pm and June 18 @ 6 pm.  Praying our quaint little town will be saved.”

Additionally, former Community Development Director, Jeff Adams, has been hired as a consultant to continue advising the City on the proposed ordinances even after he is on video publicly mocking residents about the ordinances in October of 2017. At that time, Adams was the Planning Director. Adams is currently working in Bryan County, GA in a similar role.

AllOnGeorgia-Camden asked for a response from current Community Development Director, Morgan Granger, if the Special Called meeting location could be moved to a larger venue to accommodate high interest from the public.  Granger did not respond to the request before publishing. In previous reporting, the Council and Mayor said they would refrain from public comment on the ordinances until they receive them for review.

The Planning Commission does not have to consider public comment in a special called meeting. The decision to consider public comment must be set by the Planning Commission. According to the posted agenda, “it is strictly at the discretion of the Planning Commission to accept further public comment.”

If public comment is allowed, citizens must sign up to be heard.  The Special Called meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. on June 14th in the Council Chambers in City Hall where the Commission will vote up or down the measure.  If the measure is passed, it will be sent to the City Council and Mayor for voting on June 18th.

Related links –

 


Related articles –

St. Marys City Official mocks residents over newly proposed ordinances and codes

Video: St. Marys Planning Board votes down ‘HOA style’ ordinances

St. Marys Council sends back contested zoning ordinances to commission

St. Marys Planning Board engages public on ‘HOA style’ ordinances

Petition started to stop St Marys ‘HOA style’ ordinances

 

 

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Jeremy Spencer
Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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