Saturday, December 10, 2011

Al Gray: Mr. Browning's Exit Sign

Mr. Browning’s Exit Sign
By Al Gray


The undisputed king of overlay district zoning in the Augusta Area was the departed Jeff Browning, long time Planning and Zoning Director for Columbia County, master of the Evans Town Center Overlay District (ETCOD), the Columbia County Master Corridor Overlay district, the Fury’s Ferry Corridor Overlay District, the Washington Road Corridor Overlay District, the Columbia Road Overlay District, and the Bel Air Road Corridor Overlay District.

Other than making nice brick exteriors the rule rather than the exception and having a few token trees poked into the ground, the overlay districts have been largely failures. Columbia County simply never gave Mr. Browning an office tower filled with the planning and engineering staff to make the things work or to impose the rules uniformly.  Once this was lost, the overlays simply became a tool of extortion placed upon the poor hapless commercial property developer operating on borrowed money and time. This was predicted at the time the first overlay zoning district, ETCOD, was passed in 2000.

A study in 2003 showed only one property that met ETCOD’s stringent requirements, out of dozens of businesses built under its authority. The ordinance required variation hearings and notices for the slightest deviations and there were scores of exceptions, yet there had been only 4 variation hearings held and variance permits issued. The written rule gave way to the as-built rule, de jure law yielding to de facto law.  It became a simple matter for a developer with a little sense and time to spend to defeat the written rules by taking digital camera shots of allowed exceptions, measuring distances, and counting the number of approved parking spaces allowed his predecessors.

All these things drove poor Jeff Browning to distraction. Eventually they drove him back to Tennessee.

Of all the things Browning despised most and worked hardest to keep out of Evans were large electronic signs. The bankers were his undoing on that one.

One can only imagine old Jeff’s reaction to Columbia County itself erecting a very large electronic sign (see above at top of this article) on Ronald Reagan Boulevard. This incredibly bright sign sits   in front of the new Towne Center Park, which instantly has become a raging success. One might even call the weekend throngs there a vindication of Commission Chairman Ron Cross’ vision for the park, once seen as a heavily wooded minimalist utopia by the naturalist crowd – all ten of them.  That sign almost screams defiance of the tree huggers.

Crowds entering the park are advised of the latest movies showing, the time and temperature, and things we all love – Puppies!
Now that’s a sign overlay that works – in a place where Browning doesn’t any more.
Adopt a puppy. Hug a Columbia County Commissioner. After their own overlay wars and now Magnolia Trace, they need it.

Somehow an Excedrin PM ad would be most fitting on the Ronald Reagan sign. ***

2 comments:

Jill Peterson said...

i cannot believe you beat me to getting "puppies" into a stink article, all caps and properly punctuated, no less. expect a concession call.

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