Bill: Don't make comprehensive plans mandatory

As a group of lawmakers pushes for legislation to end what they see as unfunded mandates for local governments, planners warn one of the bills could give developers too much power.

A bill to remove comprehensive plan requirements from local jurisdictions was introduced by freshman Sen. Frank Ginn last week and is part of a broader package of legislation that has raised concerns among some state planners and local officials.

Ginn’s bill, SB 86, would make optional the plans local jurisdictions are required to submit and update with the state Department of Community Affairs. The comprehensive plans are designed to help local jurisdictions map out growth and development and better allocate resources.

The bill would remove the qualified local government (QLG) designation that the DCA uses for jurisdictions who comply with the comprehensive plan requirements, and which is required to receive various grant funding.

The bill also would eliminate the state's authority to restrict large projects in jurisdictions close to nearby cities and counties, which Ginn likens to "throwing stones," but would still require those surrounding areas to be notified of the plans and possibly weigh in.

"I am a big proponent of planning, but these plans are created to comply with a cookie-cutter format, and that shouldn't be the case," said Ginn, R-Danielsville. "I think the closer to home you make these decisions, the better they are for your community."

The bill has the support of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association, which advocate on behalf of local governments, but the Georgia Planning Association placed a legislative alert about the bill on its website, saying that removing a comprehensive plan could give more power to potential developers.

“While eliminating the required stick as a Qualified Local Government [QLG] sounds appealing, citizens should be genuinely concerned about the growth decisions made in a community that has decided to stop community planning," the Georgia Planning Association included in the alert.

Many of the larger jurisdictions will complete the comprehensive plans with or without the state requirements, supporters of the legislation have said, but for smaller governments, the requirements can become a financial burden.

“Why are we spending money on these reports that are not even looked at and are sitting in file cabinets in some areas?” asked Clint Mueller, ACCG’s legislative director. “Are they really necessary?”

In a larger county such as Cobb, where ongoing comprehensive plans are completed by county staff, the DCA requirement or costs are not an issue, officials said. The concern for the county lies in some of the conflict resolution provisions for land issues between neighboring jurisdictions that could be removed under the proposed legislation, said Rob Hosack, Cobb's community development director, who attended a meeting with ACCG and Georgia Planning Association officials Monday.

Both sides of the planning issue have been meeting to address concerns since the bill was introduced last week. DCA officials have discussed allowing smaller governments to defer the deadline for their comprehensive plans to save money, said Phil Foil, DCA's deputy commissioner.

The bill has been assigned to the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee, headed by Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who has signed on to the bill.

Ginn and other lawmakers began working with the ACCG last year on ways to remove some of the burden on local governments, he said. Similar bills targeting other reporting requirements -- such as making solid waste planning optional, eliminating the requirement to publish annual financial statements in a newspaper and eliminating an annual 911 audit listing expenses and collections -- could be filed this week.