West Cherokee County, north of Lake Allatoona, is largely undeveloped. The county’s land-use plan calls for low-impact development across most of it. The state plans to start widening Highway 20 west of Canton within the next 10 years, but, overall, road plans in that area are only designed to support low-intensity development. I hope that’s realistic. If not, we could face an unplanned growth problem like we have in southeast Cherokee.
About 12 years ago, two huge developments in west Cherokee County were proposed, and nearly approved. Canton West was proposed on about 2,300 acres west of Canton. Part of it stretched to Highway 108. Part of it was planned to be in the city of Canton, the other in unincorporated Cherokee County. Another development, A Village in the Forest, was proposed on 5,000 acres on Highway 20 at the Bartow County line. Between them, these projects would have added about 18,000 homes, or about 40,000 people. Neither project conformed to the county’s land-use plan, but, at the time, both were approved by the Atlanta Regional Commission. Both failed to get local approval, since city and county administrations had shifted from pro-growth to slower-growth majorities. Then, the real estate crash of 2008 took the properties out of play.
Now, they’re looming on the horizon, again. Both properties are up for sale and development. A majority of county and city leadership remains committed to responsible, restrained growth. But, property owners are legally entitled to a reasonable economic use of their property. So, what’s reasonable?
Lack of sewers has been a factor holding back development there. Sewers should respond to the demand, and shouldn’t be used as a tool to promote or block development. There’s demand for sewers in west Cherokee now, from Waleska, Lake Arrowhead and others. A revival of Canton West will create more. The bottom line is, sewers inevitably will come to that area.
Of course, sewers have many benefits. They allow quality commercial development that otherwise can’t exist, as well as compact residential development in appropriate areas. More importantly, for a growing regional population, sewers return treated waste water to the river, so it can be used again downstream.
Will the availability of sewers spawn a rush of development that we can’t or won’t control, resulting in high-impact development that overwhelms the current infrastructure? Are we facing another Hickory Flat scenario? Or, will we, and future leadership, have the will and strength to keep development mostly low-impact? Those are the questions that keep me awake at night.
As always, I welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Harry Johnston is chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.