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Citizens fight for Pike ag rights

Citizens were loud and clear about their desire not to be limited on agricultural rights in the county during the Nov. 28 commission meeting, speaking both before the meeting in the town hall session and during a public hearing on the county’s proposed UDC (Unified Development Code). After more than an hour of discussion, commissioners voted to defer the first reading of the ordinance changes and schedule a workshop with experts from fields related to the changes.

“This was initially started to better manage subdivision requirements and we were not looking to limit agriculture in the county,” said commission chairman Briar Johnson.

Several requested that agricultural restrictions be lifted altogether and many also requested commissioners take a step back and look more closely at the issues before moving forward.

“There’s so much that goes on in our county that has to do with agriculture. The zoning board will change over time and they may not be as in favor of as we are today,” said Pike Agribusiness Authority chair Mark Camp. “As you look at making these changes, please allow time to go over it closely.”

It was noted that the county has had a moratorium for many months that will expire by the end of the year and the code changes need to be updated by then.

Some of the restrictions have been changed since the first draft of the code but Pike extension agent Brooklyne Wassel asked that students not be required to apply for a special use permit and have to appear before the zoning board to request to be allowed to have livestock or poultry for FFA purposes as it might discourage them from being involved in the program. Commissioner Jason Proctor asked how much the special use permit fee is and at the answer of $500, the room erupted with citizens registering their disgust and disbelief.

FFA advisor and agriculture teacher Brandi Baade noted that there are 279 FFA students at the high school and 75 at the middle school with over half of them living on four acres or less.

“This will greatly impact our youth ag programs in the community and my major concern is that this ordinance limits students’ ability to house livestock on their property,” she said. “Ag makes up the fabric of our community and you need to reconsider these proposed ordinances and their exponential impact on Pike County youth.”

Blake Blount said there is no need for limits on chickens and livestock.

“We already have nuisance laws in Georgia for dealing with defined nuisances so this is really a redundant restriction,” he said. “We ask that you get rid of those restrictions and it would solve a lot of issues that people have with these proposed ordinances.”

“There are many things here that can be detrimental to the county,” said Matt Bottoms, addressing the gardening restrictions on small parcels. “There are many things that need to be addressed and methodically gone through. I’m in the nursery business and probably give away more plants than I sell but it’s scary to think that I can’t give plants to a person who lives on a one-acre lot because they can’t plant it.”

Many citizens also mentioned the increasing house size and acreage requirements, noting that seniors have few options for staying in Pike and younger citizens are being ‘priced out’ of living in the county where their families have lived for generations.

“We have a lot of seniors in Pike County who are aging out of their homes and under these new restrictions will no longer be able to afford to live here,” said Patricia Beckham.

“If we are going to call ourselves an agricultural community, we are going to have to do things that promote it and doesn’t in any way inhibit that,” said Vonda Blount.

Others fought for agri-tourism allowances to be added in to the county code.

“If we are going to stay an agricultural county, we are going to have to support what ag needs and that includes building housing for workers,” said Brad Gregg of Gregg Farms. “If people from cities want to come and experience all that agriculture has to offer, we need to have somewhere for them to stay and currently we don’t.”

Planning and zoning director Jeremy Gilbert noted that a workshop on the changes was held in January 2023, with a planning and zoning meeting in February and the revision of the code taking place from February to July. The first joint workshop with commissioners and the zoning board was held Aug. 10 with others on Aug. 29, Sept. 13, Sept. 20. The final draft was posted Oct. 18 with the recommended changes.

Gilbert noted that no zoning changes were made to properties but because the new code would rename some zoning districts, it required the creation of a new zoning map. He said anything zoned PRD is referred to as R-2 residential zoning in the new code.

He noted that the trees recommended for developers is referring specifically to the types of trees that are planted as buffers and in required landscaping to protect neighboring properties. He also noted that the additional zoning requirements benefits the public as it requires that residents in the area get a letter about the proposed changes, a sign must be posted on the property and the hearing advertised.

“This gives citizens an opportunity to come in and voice their opinions so changes aren’t just made without them even knowing about it,” he said. “A lot of what is in this ordinance is being carried over from the old ordinance.”

Commissioner Guy noted that most citizens were opposed to the agricultural changes.

“I agree we need to take a closer look. We want to work it out and we want it to be right,” said commissioner Tim Guy as he seconded commissioner Tim Daniel’s motion to defer the UDC first reading and schedule a workshop.

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