Category Archives: Lowndes County Commission, Georgia

Thoroughfare Plan for Lowndes County

Thoroughfare Map, Lowndes County, Georgia The County Commission is scheduled to vote on a revised Thoroughfare Plan for Lowndes County today at 5PM at 325 West Savannah Avenue, Valdosta, GA. Details are here. The plan as submitted to Commissioners Friday appears to be an early working draft not ready for prime time, including as it does uses of terms that are not defined and quite a few internal inconsistencies, as well as conflicts with the Greater Lowndes 2030 Comprehensive Plan. Commissioners may decide to defer approval until the plan is in better shape.

As an example of things in the plan that could use fixing, it proposes to reclassify Quarterman Road from local to minor collector on the basis that within 20 years it might have enough traffic “if it were developed”, despite the Greater Lowndes 2030 Comprehensive Plan showing the same neighborhood as agricultural through 2030. Many other roads are proposed to be reclassified by the new Thoroughfare Plan even though they do not meet the criteria set forth in the same plan itself. The plan might benefit from some additional process or procedural input and review. Fortunately, the Chairman and the County Manager appear to be soliciting input. More details here.

VDT: Quarterman Road project completed

The Valdosta Daily Times caught me working on being tactful.

Matt Flumerfelt’s writeup actually conflates two different county commission meetings, but gets the gist right:

The fate of the tree canopies lining the rural road were thought to hang in the balance. Several residents spoke in favor of the paving, citing dangerous conditions along the road during periods of stormy weather.

John and Gretchen Quarterman, whose ancestors lent their name to the country lane, led the fight to preserve the road in its original pristine dirt-road condition.

A longleaf pine on Quarterman Road. The forest along Quarterman Road is “a scrap of the longleaf fire forest that used to grow from southern Virginia to eastern Texas,” said John Quarterman following the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This forest has been here since the last ice age.”

Quarterman Road, pre-paving, was the kind of dirt road down which Huckleberry Finn might be envisioned skipping barefoot with a fishing rod projecting over one shoulder.

It was the kind of road near which Thoreau might have planted a cabin.

“Many people don’t know that a longleaf pine forest has more species diversity than anything outside a tropical rain forest,” Quarterman said. “In our woods, we have five species of blueberries, …

Oh, the beaver will be mad. I forgot to mention the beaver.

The rest of the story is on the VDT web pages. More pictures of the event in the previous blog entry.

For pictures of what lives in the forest, see longleaf burning gopher tortoises, snakes, frogs, bees and butterflies, spiders and scorpion, and raccoon, and beautyberry, pokeberry, passion flower, pond lily, ginger lily, Treat’s rain lily (native only to south Georgia, north Florida, and a bit of Alabama), thistle, sycamore, palmetto, mushrooms, lantana, magnolia, grapes, yellow jessamine, dogwood, and native wild azaleas.

The VDT has a good picture of Gretchen cutting the ribbon.

But it’s not over just because one road project is completed:

“More people around the county seem to be paying attention these days. Commissioners tell us that already another road in the county has had its canopy saved during paving, and the commission has promised residents of Coppage Road that if their road is paved, their canopy will be saved. Commissioners even seem to like the idea of recognizing canopy roads as a feature of quality of life for residents of the county and for visitors.”

We have a forest. The county just has roads.

Now let’s go see what they’re doing to the rest of our roads. And schools, and waste management, and biofuels, and industry…. If you’d like to help, please contact the Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange.

Start of Asphalt on Quarterman Road

In November 2008, the Lowndes County Commission voted to pave Quarterman Road. Grubbing and clearing happened in December. Paving bids were accepted and decided in March 2009.

Putting down the asphalt started 20 August 2009:

Three vehicles

The county is holding a ribbon cutting at 10 AM this Thursday, 10 September 2009, at the north end of the north canopy. It’s a public event. Y’all come. Don’t be late; the chairman starts things on the dot.

Upset in Lower Lowndes

In today’s VDT Upset about development:
Bill Herndon and his neighbors are unhappy about a development being built in their backyards.

Marvin Peavy, owner of Peavy Properties, has already rented some of the Mar-Mel-Go apartments, and about 70 of the projected 150 apartments have been completed. The other 80 units are scheduled to be added soon.

The two-story apartment buildings rise uncomfortably close to the homes of Pinebrook Drive residents, such as Herndon. Windows of the complex look directly into their backyards and homes.

Marvin Peavy, now why does that name ring a bell? Ah, yes, CEO and CFO of Lower Lowndes, Inc. the corporation that bought 62.53 acres on Quarterman Road and attempted to rezone it from E-A to R-21 back in 2007. One of the neighbors saw the sign out front and a bunch of us helped convince the County Commission to deny the rezoning.

This time it’s so bad another developer is complaining:

Robert Eddington also lives on Pinebrook Drive. He is a builder and said everyone has a right to develop their property. What he’s disturbed about, among other issues, is that the plans they were shown are not being followed. Eddington was told most of the trees would be spared to protect their privacy, but when he came home several days later, they were all gone except a few.

Eddington and his neighbors successfully fought a similar development on nearby Water Oak Drive four years ago. They had no such opportunity this time, he said. No notices of any hearing were posted. Neither Herndon nor Fuhrer saw any notices posted announcing zoning or development hearings by the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners.

Hm, given that the ULDC got changed a year or so back to require notification of rezoning mailed to adjoining property owners, in addition to a notice in the newspaper and a sign out front, if there was no sign and neighbors didn’t get notices, I wonder if there’s a legal problem with the rezoning.

Ah, this takes me back:

Eddington’s fence was damaged during Mar-Mel-Go construction. When contractors finally fixed it 17 months later, he said his wife asked about the gate that was supposed to be installed. The site manager told his wife that it wouldn’t be installed until the rest of the apartments were completed. Eddington said they were originally told these would be “luxury condos,” but are very different from the way they were described.
The previous subdivision (not Peavy’s) that did get built on Quarterman Road (because its zoning was grandfathered in way back in the 1980s) involved a builder shoving building trash through my fence into my field. And streetlights that were installed by the developer but never turned on until the subdivision residents got the Commission to institute a special tax district to pay for them.

Curious how yet again “the plans they were shown are not being followed.”

Maybe if the neighbors go to the county they’ll get redress:

Herndon and his neighbors pooled their money several years ago and spent $4,400 to pave Pinewood Drive, so they feel they have a stake in how the road is used. He approached the Lowndes County Commission about the residents’ concerns and was eventually connected with County Engineer Mike Fletcher.

Fletcher said a $30,000 siren-controlled gate would be installed on Pinewood Drive for emergency vehicle access only, eliminating unwanted traffic through their neighborhood. The property owner is responsible for installing the gate, said Kevin Beals, Lowndes County development reviewer.

Ah, finger pointing! Not the county government’s problem; it’s up to the property owner. Nevermind the county commission approved the development with certain plans and requirements.

Well, maybe if the neighbors escalate to the county manager:

Lowndes County Manager Joe Pritchard said he thinks Pinebrook Drive residents “have some legitimate questions and we ought to be able to provide a reasonable answer.” Pritchard said he plans to meet with County Engineer Mike Fletcher and Zoning Administrator Carmella Braswell on Monday to discuss the development and see what remedies might be available.
Yes, we’ve seen that process many times before. Note he doesn’t say they’ll provide any actual fixes to any of the problems, just “a reasonable answer”. We’ll see if these neighbors get any satisfaction this time.

According to the County Commission calendar, there’s a work session coming up Monday 13 July at 8:30AM and a commission meeting coming up Tuesday 14 July at 5:30PM. The Tuesday public meetings always have an agenda item for Citizens Wishing to the Heard. The work sessions usually don’t, but if you go you can hear what the commissioners have to say about subjects that have come before them, and often you can talk to them directly before or after the meeting.

Prison Reform

US_incarceration_timeline-clean.gif We’ve locked a lot of people up since 1980, making the U.S. the world leader in prison population (both total and per capita), and the south the leader of the U.S. Locking up a lot of non-violent offenders, especially drug offenders, hasn’t bought us much safety and has caused a lot of problems.

Fortunately, somebody is trying to do something about it:

Washington, DC–Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today introduced bipartisan legislation to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee, is the principal Republican cosponsor.
You can follow the progress of S.714 online; it’s currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, Jim Webb explains the problem in Parade:

America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation’s prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.

We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration. Twenty-five years ago, I went to Japan on assignment for PARADE to write a story on that country’s prison system. In 1984, Japan had a population half the size of ours and was incarcerating 40,000 sentenced offenders, compared with 580,000 in the United States. As shocking as that disparity was, the difference between the countries now is even more astounding–and profoundly disturbing. Since then, Japan’s prison population has not quite doubled to 71,000, while ours has quadrupled to 2.3 million.

The United States has by far the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world’s reported prisoners. We currently incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the average worldwide of 158 for every 100,000. In addition, more than 5 million people who recently left jail remain under “correctional supervision,” which includes parole, probation, and other community sanctions. All told, about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release. This all comes at a very high price to taxpayers: Local, state, and federal spending on corrections adds up to about $68 billion a year.

Our overcrowded, ill-managed prison systems are places of violence, physical abuse, and hate, making them breeding grounds that perpetuate and magnify the same types of behavior we purport to fear.

And Arlen Specter gets into details in an op-ed in the Philadelphia newspaper:

The U.S. criminalizes conduct that would be better left to treatment and penalties other than imprisonment. Take drugs. The number of jailed drug offenders has soared 1,200 percent since 1980 despite the fact that many of these offenders have no history of violence or high-level drug distribution. Many are behind bars under sentencing guidelines that leave judges no choice.

In another example of dubious penology, too many mentally ill people are treated as miscreants or felons rather than as patients in need of treatment. There are four times as many mentally ill people in prison than in mental health hospitals. Many of these individuals end up back on the streets.

This is not about people convicted of violent crimes. We need to make sure that dangerous criminals and second-time offenders with a history of violence go to jail. As a former prosecutor who served two terms as D.A. in Philadelphia, I’m a strong proponent of incarcerating violent criminals for public safety and deterrence. And I support the death penalty in especially egregious cases.

But I also believe we need to restore judicial discretion in low-level drug cases and other nonviolent crimes. With our federal prisons at 140 percent capacity and with 7.3 million Americans incarcerated or on probation or parole – a number equivalent to 1 in every 31 adults – the issue cannot wait.

The question we started with, jail deaths in Lowndes County jail, is only a symptom. The problem is much larger. Fortunately, we can do something about it.

Georgia does not have a member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that means there’s no reason not to contact any or all of the members of that commmittee. Here they are.

Paving Quarterman Road

Quarterman Road, 9 March 2009Several months ago a contract for grubbing and clearing Quarterman Road was let. I posted about some of the results of that.

Yesterday, 10AM, March 12 11, 2009, was the bid selection meeting for the contract for paving Quarterman Road. It was a public meeting. Carolyn Selby reports the following bids were read:

The low bid was selected, so Scruggs will be paving Quarterman Road.

The county engineer had estimated $1,336,000.00 for the project.

The county commission will vote on March 24, 2009 at the regular meeting.

Expansion of Lowndes County Commission?

Since a proposal for nine commissioners was voted down in the 1980s and the Justice Department required a minority-majority district, leading to the current three commissioners plus non-voting chair, there have been various attempts to expand the number of Lowndes County Commissioners. Thomas County has eight commissioners, as do several other nearby counties with less population than Lowndes County. For that matter, the city of Valdosta has I think seven city council members, for less than half the population of Lowndes County.

The previous commission was divided among itself on this issue, and the local state representatives would not bring it up in the legislature without consensus among the commission. The new commission has been trying to move forward on this. The last version I heard involved keeping the same commission districts as now, plus adding two overlapping commissioners for new east and west districts.

Interestingly, there was nothing said about all this at Monday’s work session, yet we discover in the newspaper:

Paige Dukes, Lowndes County information officer, said the commission visited with reapportionment in Atlanta twice during the past few weeks. As a result of those meetings, the reapportionment office forwarded several maps to the commission for its review, Dukes said.

Lowndes County Commission Chairman Ashley Paulk said, “The commission continues to work feverishly on the expansion issue. We are at an 80 percent consensus regarding a plan that will meet local needs and satisfy requirements determined by the Department of Justice. I am working one on one with each commissioner in an effort to get a plan to citizens as soon as possible.”

Paulk was a guest of Scott James on his morning radio on program TALK 92.1 Monday, and in the course of that interview, Paulk said that if all the commissioners agreed on the plan, the expansion could actually be voted on by the board at tonight’s meeting.

It’s not clear from that just what they might vote on, but from context maybe it would be to forward a plan to citizens to vote on.

Valdosta Aeterna

vldseal.jpg A new year brings Mayor Fretti’s State of the City address for Valdosta. It was quite interesting as an exercise in transparency: he walked through what seemed like every city department, one by one, in addition to talking about overarching cost-saving measures and emphasizing that Valdosta has no debt, not even bond debt. This was all good.

I noticed that, unlike last year, there were no military personnel pointed out or even present. I guess the mayor noted that saber-rattling is not in fashion this year. He did mention some details of recent economic improvements at Moody AFB; everyone knows the importance of Moody to the local economy.

I did think it was a little over the top when the mayor included in his welcome of new and old county officials that “all roads lead to Valdosta, the county seat.” Valdosta Aeterna! Well, Valdosta, unlike Rome, may not be eternal, but bickering between the city and the county apparently is.

Also, as I mentioned to the mayor afterwards, I had hoped he would say a few words about the proposed bus system. He indicated that he had simply forgotten to do so. That’s understandable, considering all he did talk about. Next year.

If you live in Valdosta, I understand you can view the mayor’s speech on local cable for some time to come. I recommend it. The full text is on the Valdosta city web site (yay!), even though it’s in a hidden link (which I’ve dug out and linked in here) and in Microsoft Word (boo!) instead of as plain HTML.

In the regular agenda, the elephant not in the room became even more obvious by its absence. At the citizens wishing to be heard section, nobody came forward. For that matter, there were almost no citizens present other than elected officials, city employees, contractors, and press. This is a problem. The city of Valdosta is going to some lengths to be transparent and to accept citizen input. Where are the citizens?

Also, this being Valdosta, the one item on the agenda that got the most discussion time was the tennis court improvements at McKey Park. Sports rule in TitleTown!

Perhaps the new county commission chair will think about giving a State of the County talk.

Valdosta Transit Implementation Plan

Transit-Needs-Map.png A couple of weeks ago (Wednesday, Jan 7th, 2009), I went to a public meeting on a Transit Implementation Plan for the Valdosta Urbanized Area. Basically, where should the proposed Valdosta bus system run? This is part of the Valdosta Transportation Master Plan.

It was quite interesting that there was such a meeting, at which the various organizers (SGRDC, MPO, and the consultant) actively solicited input from the attendees, in both ad hoc and organized ways. First they gave a presentation and answered questions. Then they asked participants to fill out a questionnaire about where they lived, worked, and played. The presentation for that meeting is online. They even scheduled several more Public Involvement Meetings. Hm, I’m not seeing that schedule online, but presumably they’ll put it up before the meetings happen.

There was pretty good attendance: several plain citizens, the mayor, a couple of city council members, a couple of county commissioners, at least one planning commission member, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, a newspaper reporter, etc.

If you want a bus to run near you, I’d recommend going to one of these meetings, or contacting the organizer, Corey Hull, MPO Coordinator, 229-333-5277.

Lowndes County has a Thoroughfare Plan, which is currently being revised. We’ll see what the public input process for that turns out to be.