The Georgia Coastal Comprehensive Plan

NOTE: This article was prepared by staff of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in April 2006 and issued to various organizations for publication. Several statements made were inaccurate or inconsistent with the Center's positions on critical regional issues. Our comments on these points are noted the end of this article.

Center for a Sustainable Coast
Summer/Fall 2006 Newsletter

The Georgia coast is one of the fastest-growing parts of the state, but it is also a region rich in history and culture that contains many treasured resources. Balancing various competing interests, in the face of this growth, has become a significant challenge, and the problem is compounded by the lack of a truly regional vision for the area. In light of this, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has been charged by Governor Sonny Perdue with the task of developing a Coastal Comprehensive Plan for the six coastal counties, which are Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden. This task will primarily be carried out by the Office of Planning and Quality Growth at DCA, working in coordination with other state departments and agencies, as well as with local governments, nonprofits and business leaders. The final document is to be completed by September of 2007. The primary web page that has been created for ongoing work on the plan is at, which has links to various documents and several other web pages.

The Coastal Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee (CCPAC), chaired by DCA Commissioner Mike Beatty, was created in the summer of 2005. CCPAC is monitoring, guiding and advising OPQG during the development of the Coastal Comprehensive Plan. The committee contains 35 members, of whom 31 are from the six coastal counties, and represents a broad spectrum of government, business and environmental interests. The committee has met in August of 2005, November of 2005, January, March, July, and September of this year.

The plan will build upon the Coastal Zone Management Program [Plan1], done in June of 2003 by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but it will be broader in scope, and its conclusions may differ. The experiences of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District will also be relevant, as water is a growing concern for coastal Georgia. In addition, the Coastal Sound Science Initiative (an EPD report to be used as the basis for future use of groundwater from the Floridan aquifer) could be a factor.

One objective of the new plan is to balance various interests that often appear to be in conflict, such as economic development versus the environment, new subdivisions versus affordable housing, and longtime residents versus newcomers. The plan will also try to find a more holistic and regional approach to problems. As the region becomes increasingly tightly-knit together, local governments (and other local institutions or organizations) need to cooperate with each other, crafting regional solutions to the larger problems that they all face. These problems, because of their broad scope and regional nature, cannot really be solved by local governments or institutions acting entirely on their own; coordination and cooperation are needed.

The plan will focus especially on certain issues that are particularly urgent. The preservation of natural resources, including the barrier islands, marshlands, forested areas, wildlife, the aquifer, and greenspace in general, is perhaps the most important. It is a goal that, aside from being worthy in its own right, provides many ancillary benefits: improving public health, promoting tourism, ensuring future water supplies, and creating a general sense of well-being. Infrastructure is another concern. There is a need for more east-west transportation corridors, for better public transit, and for the continued expansion of the ports.2 "Quality growth" (sometimes known as "smart growth") will be emphasized as a possible solution to many issues, as it is clear that the current development pattern of "sprawl" causes traffic congestion, restricts affordable housing, harms the environment, fails to provide parks and greenspace, and uses up wastefully excessive amounts of land.

Stakeholders from the coastal region will be involved as much as possible in developing the Coastal Comprehensive Plan, for incorporating local knowledge is always critical to a successful plan. Stakeholders to be consulted (among others) include local governments, school boards, development authorities, property owners, commercial fishers, and the military, as well as residents and businesses in general. Some of the techniques being considered to encourage input from stakeholders are public meetings, visual preference surveys, emails, websites, and press releases. The role of local governments in creating the plan will be especially important, as they possess the best knowledge of local trends and of development projects "in the pipeline." Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, one of the goals of the plan is to encourage better coordination between local governments, and this cannot be done successfully unless those local governments have genuine input into the planning process.

In the next few months planners intend to gain a better understanding of the problems, trends and opportunities that exist in the coastal region, and in particular the types of growth that are encouraged or discouraged by the policies and regulations of local governments or by the standard practices of developers. There is also the option of creating some temporary guidance tools to promote better development in the near future, during the period while the planning process is underway. In the upcoming summer a draft of recommended "best practices" for development, drawing on various sources, will be introduced. In the fall, events will be held to bring in stakeholder input, and an example of a "future development concept map," covering one sub-area, will be created. This map will be enhanced and expanded in the winter of 2007, and the recommended "best practices" will be made more specific, so as to apply to particular areas. More stakeholder events will take place in the spring of 2007, and suggested implementation strategies will be formulated. The final plan will be written up and finalized during the summer of 2007. At various points in time along the way, consultants will be utilized to provide expertise and additional perspective.

The final document of the plan, expected to be completed in September of 2007, will consist of several sections. The two most important will be Vision and Implementation. The vision will enumerate various sub-areas and areas requiring special attention, and will recommend development strategies that are appropriate for these areas. Such strategies may be specific regarding land use, or they may be more general in that regard but more specific about the forms and patterns of development. The implementation will specify activities and measures needed to realize particular goals, suggest guidance for state investment, and recommend consistency provisions for local governments and state agencies.

For additional information about the plan, please contact Jim Frederick (404-679-3105) or Annaka Woodruff (706-542-9967) at the Office of Planning and Quality Growth. The Georgia coastal region is a vibrant and fascinating area, with a proud past and an exciting future. The Coastal Comprehensive Plan seeks to navigate a path to a future that it is as bright as possible.

By Matthew Heins, DCA staff
Office of Planning and Quality Growth
Georgia Department of Community Affairs
60 Executive Park South
Atlanta, GA 30329-2231
(404) 679-4857

The Center's comments about this DCA article

1. The Coastal Management Program "document" is not a regional plan, but a policy document that describes Georgia's coastal resources and explains how existing regulatory authorities will be used to meet the objectives of the federal Coastal Zone Management Program. Unlike a regional plan, Georgia's Coastal Management Program Document does not map proposed future land uses or set forth development policies or guidelines.

2. There are serious environmental burdens imposed by the expansion of the Savannah port, which now includes a proposal for deepening the Savannah River to as much as fifty feet, eight feet deeper than now. For example, about half of the highly valuable freshwater wetlands in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge have been destroyed by past deepening projects, and further deepening threatens much of these remaining wetlands. Likewise, there are existing water quality problems in the Savannah River, including loss of oxygen, that will be made worse by deepening. One currently proposed remedy is to install oxygen injectors to provide enough dissolved oxygen for the survival of fish and other aquatic life. This method, assuming it would even work, will impose huge energy costs indefinitely, generating still further adverse environmental consequences related to energy production.

What this plan must accomplish
  • To be effective and put to good use, this new regional plan ought to address problems that past plans have ignored AND it must be voluntarily implemented by coastal cities and counties.
  • Among these problems is a dangerous trend in non-point source pollution that threatens coastal water quality. If water quality cannot be better protected, there will be severe limitations on growth because new wastewater discharge permits would violate the Clean Water Act. Moreover, risks to coastal fish and wildlife will escalate, reducing our quality of life and sustainable business income.
  • A major source of non-point source pollution is development, both during and after construction. Controlling stormwater, which carries contamination into waterways and wetlands, is not being consistently done in most local jurisdictions, both statewide and regionally.
  • Under existing federal law, only more urbanized areas, such as Savannah and Brunswick, must adhere to regulations for controlling stormwater and it's uncertain how well these will work.
  • Georgia has no state authority for requiring the non-urban local governments to control stormwater or land use practices so that non-point source pollution is significantly reduced. Existing state regulations controlling erosion and sedimentation are insufficient. Even when they are properly enforced, stream buffers may be too narrow to prevent pollution.
  • Beyond stormwater and erosion controls, to reduce risks of flooding, property damage, and water contamination, there must be more effective methods for selecting and designing sites used for development. (See Threats from a Thousand Cuts, page 1.)
  • Despite extensive planning requirements in Georgia law, local plans are often overlooked when cities and counties issue permits for development, rezone land, and invest in roads, water and sewer systems, and other infrastructure that supports development.
  • To ensure that the new regional plan is actually used, there must be unprecedented support for its recommendations as well as strong incentives provided to local governments, developers, and property owners, such as special financing, tax deferrals, and tax credits.
  • Unless new legislation is passed, which would be highly controversial, it is not possible for the state to regulate land use directly, so providing or withholding incentives is the only means for achieving compliance.

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