In 2015, land use issues abound in the Red Hills

One of many services provided by Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy is a planning and advocacy program that supports our conservation efforts by working with local communities, landowners, and the public on a wide range of land use, community development, and transportation issues that could adversely affect the Red Hills Region.

Though we are still early in 2015, numerous projects, issues, and potential regulatory changes are in the offing in the Greater Red Hills Region. For example, in nearby Colquitt County Georgia, already home to more than 500 commercial poultry barns, a proposal to construct a large number of new poultry barns has galvanized many rural residents. (The typical barn is 600 feet long by 50 feet wide and houses 25,000 chickens). The proposed location of these new facilities, along a dirt road home to rural residences and hunting properties, led local landowners to successfully lobby the Colquitt County Board of Commissioners for improvements to the zoning code to better protect water resources. Specifically, the change requires that all poultry manure be stored in engineered litter storage facilities rather than outdoors, exposed to the elements. Tall Timbers staff, after reviewing the local zoning code and proposed policy changes and researching best management practices, supported landowners’ efforts to change the zoning code.

Poultry houses

Commercial poultry houses in southwest Georgia.

Staying with the poultry theme, Grady County has also seen a spike in permit applications for commercial poultry barns. Since the beginning of 2015, applicants have applied for permits to construct 20 new commercial poultry barns in the northern portion of the county. Though Grady County has no zoning code, they do have an ordinance that establishes minimum setbacks for commercial poultry operations. The Grady County building inspector noted that the newly built barns will have a storage facility for manure to prevent stormwater runoff. Tall Timbers’ staff will be following this trend to determine if continued expansion of commercial poultry operations could present a threat to water quality and to our conservation interests in the Red Hills.

Meanwhile, in an effort to improve the process of regulating local development, Jefferson County, Florida is reviewing its countywide land development code. Upon request by local officials, our planning staff reviewed several sections of the code and provided comments and recommendations to county leaders to improve the code. 

In Leon County, the Keep it Rural Coalition, a diverse group of rural landowners, successfully lobbied for a change in the land development code, restricting the ability for commercial development on local roads in the Rural Future Land Use category. The stated intent of the Rural category is “. . . to maintain and promote present and future agricultural land uses and to prohibit residential sprawl into remote areas lacking basic urban infrastructure and services.” More than half the acreage of hunting plantations in Leon County is in the Rural Land Use category with the remaining properties located in the county’s Agriculture, Silviculture, and Conservation category. Commercial development is still allowed in the rural category at the intersections of larger (non-local) roads. Tall Timbers supported the move to limit commercial growth to intersections of larger roads in rural areas as this is consistent with the intent of the Comprehensive Plan to limit urban sprawl and protect rural landscapes. The Leon County Commission unanimously endorsed the change to the land development code. 

Leon County is now considering a citizen-sponsored amendment to the Tallahassee-Leon County Comprehensive Plan that would clarify which commercial uses are appropriate in the rural land use category. The purpose of the amendment is to clarify current language that supports allowing only minimal commercial designed to service the needs of adjacent residences and the needs associated with timbering and agricultural uses. 

Lastly, at the direction of the Leon County Board of Commissioners, the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department will be undertaking a review of the Future Land Use element of the Comprehensive Plan. The Board directed the Planning Department to make the Future Land Use element and the Plan “less regulatory” and more “visionary and aspirational.” Significant change to the Future Land Use element could affect Tall Timbers’ conservation efforts in in the rural portions of Leon County. Therefore, Tall Timbers’ planning staff have already expressed interest in being involved in the evaluation process. 

The strength of the Tall Timbers Land Conservancy lies in our comprehensive approach to conservation. Our involvement in wide ranging land use issues that could negatively affect the Red Hills, as well as in community education and awareness efforts extolling the importance of the region, provides Tall Timbers the greatest opportunity for ensuring the long-term sustainability of this irreplaceable landscape.

Should readers have any questions about these or other planning or advocacy issues affecting the Red Hills, please contact me at Neil@ttrs.org

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