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On trees and population growth

            Tru “Tony” Nguyen said that his climate controlled storage facility on Bent Tree Drive would be barely visible from the road and “would look nice.” He added, “That’s the way I’m doing business.” Four of seven commission members voted to approve Nguyen’s request for a zoning change.

            Ken Tennedin questioned the legality of a commercial business being located directly between two residences. He added that it sounded like “spot zoning” to him and also noted the planning commission had denied Nguyen’s request previously. 

Planning Commission refuses to bend to Bent Tree concerns

By Dan Pool

Editor

dpool@pickensprogress.com

            In August of 1983, Progress columnist and renowned southern author Jimmy Townsend was writing about the approaching 50th anniversary of Jasper water’s system.

            Townsend wrote that he was somewhat mystified that when water was first made available (in 1933) the town had about 1,000 people inside the city limits and 50 years later, the Queen of the Appalachians as he called it, still had about 1,000. Essentially there had been no growth for a half a century and that was after water was installed, an effort that was praised mightily by Townsend.

            “Fifty years ago a cow, a pig pen, a garden and an outhouse were just a part of the family life in the county seat of Pickens,” Townsend wrote. He added that the Atlanta newspapers considered Jasper quite progressive as the wells in town were covered and the “necessary [out] houses” were kept out of streetview.

            And now look what has happened, The U.S. Census Bureau states that in 2020 the town’s population had jumped to 4,048. The Census Bureau calculates Jasper is growing at a rate of 0.92% annually. With all the new residential areas in differing stages of development, particularly those coming to the fourlane, these population numbers are going to take a much sharper curve.

            The city had a population of 3,684 in 2010 and had grown 10 percent since that Census. We’ll wager that 10 percent population growth will be greatly surpassed by the next decade. The two biggest developments (over 200 homes each) will push us over the 10 percent mark. By how much will we grow? That’s the real question.

            But Townsend, after discussing the flat growth, veered his column into an unusual path – trees, specifically the lack thereof, downtown. Townsend wrote, “The town has a desert look, a hot look and looks about as inviting as Hells Holler, USA.”

            Recalling the 1980s in town, it was a time of wide sidewalks, many crumbling, and occasional unmarked and oddly placed steps in the sidewalks with plenty of overhead utility polls.

            If Townsend had lived long-enough, he would have seen the next mayor, John Weaver, go big on trees and those trees give Main Street a much nicer look than the Hells Holler. The tree-lined Main Street didn’t come without some trial and error. One batch of trees died in a long drought, and the evergreen species used at another point was not a hit  with people who felt so many evergreen boughs crowded parking spots and sidewalks and was simply too much.

            With enough planting and replanting, we are left with a very nice streetscape. For a small town that once was praised simply for keeping the wells covered and out-houses on backstreets, we’ve come a long way. One exception, which we have editorialized on for years, our main junction on the fourlane remains a Hells Holler, maybe not a desert but certainly a wasteland. At the Highway 53 and Highway 515 intersection there is not one thing that shows any passersby the adjacent town has any pride in appearances.

            Surely we can get a few trees there or some bushes and flowers? And before anyone says DOT regulations, I would direct you to both Ellijay and Blue Ridge which have managed plants in their medians.

            Closing out 2021, we are obviously faced with an opposite problem than the 1980s. No longer are Progress columnists wondering why the town is not growing; now it’s how can the growth be accommodated?

            And the need to manage a quickly rising number of new homes, without seeing our infrastructure and small town atmosphere completely engulfed, is an urgent issue that will remain center-stage for the foreseeable future.

            When people aren’t coming you have some cushion to develop plans and ponder government services, but when the rooftops appear, it’s time to put whatever game plan you have into action. Now is that time.

            We’d strongly encourage the city council and mayor to work with their new manager and their development personnel to figure out some way to put the brakes on the growth before it reaches a breaking point with traffic or water/sewage.

            And in the meantime, don’t forget the trees – a few more in key spots would sure be nice.

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