Originally created 12/07/00

Regions preserve acreage



Richmond and Columbia counties should each get more than $500,000 early next year to preserve undeveloped land as part of a state plan to protect green space.

"It'll probably be sometime in early February," said Connie Bell, project officer for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' green-space program.

That's if state green-space program officials approve the counties' applications.

Both counties have submitted applications for the money this month: Columbia County's total share could be $516,837, and Richmond County's could be $592,826.

To qualify for state money, counties must set aside at least 20 percent of their acreage as green space - land that will be saved from development. So far, Richmond County plans to preserve 20 percent - about 33,269 acres - and Columbia County has set aside 28 percent of its 186,000 acres - about 52,000 acres.

In Richmond County's case, local officials met with residents to develop the plan, specifying land around the Augusta Canal, the Phinizy Swamp area, the riverfront and some creek basins for protection, said George Patty, Richmond County's planning commission director.

Richmond County officials plan to use green-space money to buy some land, and will also try to buy conservation easements, Mr. Patty said.

In Columbia County, officials hired a consultant - Urban Collage - to develop the plan. After a series of meetings, the county's plan split the green space into six areas:

Permanently protected land: property owned by the Corps of Engineers, canal land, or county parks;

Savannah River Conservation Area and Greenway: a 200-foot wide buffer along the river;

Flood-plain greenways: areas that would follow some of the main creeks in the county;

Martinez-Evans Open Space: slivers of land in the fastest-growing part of Columbia County;

Northwest Conservation Area: land around the lake, which could be the next hotbed of development in the county;

Historic and natural resources: areas such as Heggies Rock and Burks Mountain.

Part of Columbia County's money would go to Harlem and Grovetown. Harlem's share would be $15,480, while Grovetown would get $30,960.

Local developers, while still educating themselves on the measure, say they are supportive of what the green-space initiative hopes to accomplish.

They just want to make sure everyone will be treated fairly.

"As long as everybody plays by the same set of rules, you can make almost any plan work," said developer Mike Graybill of Graybill & Associates.

Mark Senn, executive vice president of Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial Corp., said he, too, thinks it's a good idea. "There should not be any problem with it. People in the development business are more educated toward the needs of today."

He said his company doesn't focus on just doing the minimum when it comes to green space, andsubstantial amounts of green space promote marketability for both individual developments and the county as a whole.

`We do business in five states in terms of commercial development, and I can tell you Richmond County and Columbia County are pro-business. But they do a good job in balancing the needs of the public with the needs of the developer."

Staff Writer Eric Williamson contributed to this article.

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115.