Carroll County: Adding Greenspace

Though he credits the citizens and leaders of Carroll County with the success of the Carroll County Greenspace Initiative, Commission Chairman Robert Barr concedes there is a correlation between his participation in the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) in 2000 and the timely introduction of the county’s Greenspace Initiative, for which Carroll won a county excellence award.

“Being part of the IGEL classes was a coalescing feature for me in how to approach environmental concerns, as it relates to development, in a balanced way,” says Barr, who has since served on the organization’s board.

Barr’s leadership in steering the county toward acquiring and maintaining greenspace put Carroll County years ahead of many of its counterparts.

Carroll is the only county in Georgia that abuts both Fulton County and the Alabama state line; and its commissioners had the foresight before 2000 to see that it was approaching a development crossroads. They initiated a series of policies, such as setting a goal to preserve 20 percent of the county’s total area in greenspace, and programs intended to address the need for maintaining greenspace in a proactive fashion.

County leaders further narrowed their focus on four components of greenspace development: funding and acquiring greenspace, preserving farmland, protecting natural resources and developing passive recreation areas.

Carroll County became a charter participant in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Georgia Greenspace Program, receiving $400,000 from the program to purchase land. A key factor in the success of the initiative was finding ongoing financial resources to continue acquisitions.

That’s where Amy Goolsby came in. A planner in the Carroll County Department of Community Develop-ment, she helps coordinate efforts of the different county departments as they develop long-range, strategic plans. Goolsby assisted with grant writing and park planning with the county’s Parks and Recreation Department. But her biggest task was introducing the county’s voters to the greenspace initiative and explaining how it would be funded, through a one cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

Goolsby concedes this was the most challenging aspect to her job. “The [community] buy-in is always the toughest part of a SPLOST,” she says. “But every survey we did showed that quality of life issues were on the voters’ minds.”

Voters didn’t require much convincing. They saw the link between quality of life, acquiring and maintaining greenspace, and what Carroll County might look like 20 or 30 years down the road. “We have two broad categories [of voters] in the county,” Barr says. “There are the multi-generational voters whose fathers and father’s fathers lived here, and there are the others who have just moved here. Both groups don’t want to see Carroll County turn into another ‘fill-in-the-blank’ county.”

In 2003, by a 67 percent margin, Carroll County voters approved the SPLOST, which earmarked $19 million – 36 percent of the total SPLOST – to fund water quality protection, greenspace preservation and recreation.

The net effect is that, to date, the county has acquired conservation easements for 1,718 acres of agricultural land through a Federal Farm Bill initiative, which matched SPLOST funds. More than $2 million from these funding sources locked up the development rights to farm and ranching land, guaranteeing that Carroll County will retain agricultural acreage, something important to many longtime residents.

The county also purchased more than 1,250 acres of undeveloped land – various parcels in various places – which will be set aside for passive recreation areas. “We have obtained a representative cross-section of county land available to our citizens,” Barr says. “There are 500 acres along the Chattahoochee River and another 250 acres of land bisected by the Little Tallapoosa River, which is a source of drinking water for Carrollton and Villa Rica.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) selected Carroll County to participate in an Environmental Protection Agency funded national source water protection initiative in part because of the county’s visionary approach to water protection issues. The county used SPLOST funds to acquire and protect 320 acres in the Upper Little Tallapoosa River Watershed and another 157 acres along Snake Creek, another drinking water source.

In an unusual development, the county also offered $3 million in matching funds from its share of SPLOST money to its seven municipalities – Carrollton, Bowdon, Mount Zion, Roopville, Temple, Villa Rica and Whitesburg – to create their own greenspace programs.

Barr is a firm believer in the interrelated nature of economic development and the environment. In fact, he believes a little greenspace can be good for the bottom line. “If I can encourage a developer to cluster a tract for development, he saves on infrastructure,” he says, adding that builders have been using greenspace as an amenity for decades.

“They’ve known for years that people like greenspace,” he says. “Golf course communities are everywhere. What we’re asking them to do now is to build a community without a golf course.”

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features