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Pros outweigh cons for Foster Creek, town manager says

by Leah Justice

Columbus Town Manager Tim Holloman says the benefits of the proposed Foster Creek Preserve development outweigh the negatives, especially considering the added revenue it would bring to the town.

Holloman shared his views at a special meeting in the town on Tuesday. At the meeting, the town council agreed to hold a public hearing later this month for a proposed eight-month moratorium on new major subdivisions.

Many area residents have been pleading with the town to adopt a moratorium so it can tighten its land use regulations before Foster Creek submits its plans.

Columbus Mayor Kathleen McMillian began the meeting by saying Columbus officials want to obtain input from town residents and said the town and its council are currently under fire concerning development.

&dquo;You should find more positives than negatives for controlled growth in and around Columbus,&dquo; McMillian said. &dquo;Taxpayers inside our town limits can be assured that the added tax base will be in their favor in order to keep their property taxes down. Our council members are attempting to lessen the need for a tax increase. To expand our corporate limits will be a forward step.&dquo;

Holloman gave a list of pros and cons concerning Foster Creek, a proposed development of almost 1,050 acres and 776 homesites off Houston Road that was voluntarily annexed into Columbus.

Holloman said over several years, the added property tax revenue from Foster Creek will allow the town to cut its tax rate. He noted how difficult it is to keep taxes low in a small town such as Columbus. He said the development also would generate additional revenue for Columbus businesses and local contractors. He added that Foster Creek would have other benefits because the developer plans to leave at least 500 acres of open space and will have a park for all Columbus residents to use.

Holloman said negatives to the development include increased traffic and more people, more wear on roads and streets and decreased habitat for wild animals.

Holloman also noted that the development over an 18-year build out period could mean $8 million in extra revenue for the town plus added revenue in its water and sewer fund, building permits, sanitation fees and Powell Bill or street funds. Foster Creek is incurring infrastructure costs such as running water lines to hook up to Columbus.

To address public concerns, Foster Creek representative Scott Kilby said the developer plans to have 776 homesites instead of the previously planned 850. He said at least 530 acres of the development will be left in open space and developers are also limiting clearing of each lot, as well as building narrower roads and using existing logging roads to limit clearing. The total open space could be as much as 65 percent of the development, according to Kilby.

Kilby also noted that the development will have walking trails accessible to the public and developers encourage ordinances such as dark sky, erosion and sedimentation, tree and park&bsp; and other restrictions. The build out of homes is proposed over 15 to 20 years, so the increase in population will be slow, Kilby said.

&dquo;We want to make conditions so as to protect the town even if these ordinances are not hammered out in time,&dquo; Kilby said.&bsp; &dquo;We are not Chocolate Drop.&dquo;

But many of the 70 area residents who attended the meeting disagreed that 776 more homesites in Columbus is a positive thing. Many of the people opposed to the development have been urging the town to impose a moratorium for stronger development restrictions and some have called for the de-annexation of Fosters Creek

&dquo;What&squo;s wrong with a small town,&dquo; asked Scott Camp, who said he&squo;s lived in Columbus 35 years. &dquo;When I first came to Columbus there was one policeman and he worked at night because we didn&squo;t need one during the day. Now we have five that work around the clock.&dquo;

Camp said with more development more police, fire and other town employees will be added and taxes will increase and Columbus doesn&squo;t need it.

Many comments from residents last week drew applause and some an &dquo;Amen.&dquo;

Susan Speight said that people who grew up here may not be aware of this, but people are drawn to Polk County.

&dquo;It&squo;s a spiritual thing,&dquo; Speight said. &dquo;There is a spiritual connection and we feel you are trying to take that away. We want you to save it and a moratorium is a must. We beg you to do what&squo;s right not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren.&dquo;

The public hearing on the proposed moratorium will be held on May 27 at 5:30 p.m. at Columbus Town Hall.