Going For Smart Growth

Sometimes going away and coming back allows for a fresh new look at an old address. That happened for Tim Young when he left South Metro Atlanta in the year 2000, then came back in 2005.

“It was interesting to see the changes,” says Young, who has a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee, where he studied land use, transportation and economic development.

The amount of growth and development that took place on the south side in those years was dramatic, says Young, who worked as a planner in Henry County from 1996 to 2000.

Then he moved to Columbia County, a stunningly fast-growing suburb of Augusta, which he described as “one of the most progressive” communities anywhere. His experience there was a great education. One thing he learned was that improper zoning or improper land use – putting retail in the wrong places, for example – was “one of the worst things you can do.”

He saw a lot of that when he returned to South Metro in 2005.

“It wasn’t just the volume of growth, but the things that you don’t want to see,” Young says. For example, shopping centers that were new before he left and filled with boutiques and hair salons in just a few years had become home to pawn shops or churches meeting in makeshift quarters.

Meanwhile, more and more people were moving in.

“In that four years, Henry County added 40,000 people,” Young says. “It was a tremendous change.”

Young returned as director of community development for the city of Locust Grove in Henry County. The first thing he advised the city upon assuming his new position was, “You need to get hold of your land use.”

As a result, the city created a comprehensive land use plan that specifies what areas should have big box retail development and what areas should have small shops, boutiques and cafes – as well as many other designations. The city also has revised its zoning and development code, adopted transportation plans and is working on a new downtown vision and master plan.

Locust Grove has many challenges and much work to do, Young says, but the plan has already worked well enough that he has been called upon to present it for the benefit of other city professionals who might want to do likewise.

Young’s advice to his city and others is to go back to fundamental steps of land use planning. “My vision of smart growth,” he says, “is getting back to the basics.” – Katheryn Hayes Tucker

Categories: Metro Atlanta