THOMASVILLE — Compromise, study and time are among responses from several members of a Citizens Advisory Panel about their first official duty.

The group is charged with input on the community’s state-mandated 20-year comprehensive plan due in June 2008. The plan will address a wide range of concerns crucial to the future of a community healthy in all aspects.

A March organizational meeting was the Thomas County Commission-appointed advisory panel’s first.

Their initial assignment came Monday when a highly controversial agricultural land-use issue landed in the group’s collective lap.

At two public hearings on the matter, concerned citizens filled courtroom pews and the jury box, lined hallways and spilled from the second-floor front door of the Thomas County Courthouse.

The issue:

• The current ruling applied to ag land has the residential lot size at one acre to 25 acres, with a limit of three lots.

• The proposed change would put the residential lot size at five acres to 50 acres, also with three lots.

• Minimum road frontage would change from 100 feet to 300 feet.

“Overall, to prepare the community for the growth anticipated, the best way is to handle it properly to the benefit of everyone,” said Bob Hutchison, panel member.

Hutchison, owner of a Thomasville insurance company, wants to reach an agricultural-land compromise favored by everyone. He wants to understand the problem and develop a solution.

“Evidently, they haven’t come up with one,” Hutchison said, in reference to county government officials.

County commissioners in March petitioned a panel they appointed to vote on the ag land-use question and make a recommendation to the board.

The body, the Thomas County Planning and Land Use Standards Commission, refused to vote or to make a recommendation.

A week later, county commissioners voted 5-2 to punt the ball to the citizens advisory panel.

Hutchison is not opposed to the five-acre theory, but has a problem with a section of the proposed ruling that would allow ag land to be divided only so many times.

“I have issues with that,” Hutchison explained, adding that he understands zoning and its land-protection qualities.

He said economists, real estate experts and the Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce have warned that people are flocking to Thomas County from Florida.

“I’m for structured growth to ensure there is no overload,” Hutchison said.

He pointed out the answer will not be easy, and not everyone will agree.

Panel member Elven Herring needs time to delve deeper into the reasoning behind commissioners’ proposed changes in ag land-use rulings.

“We all need some place to live, and we all need houses, and we need to make money off our property,” said Herring, who retired from the federal General Services Administration after 43 years of employment.

Herring understands the panel’s purpose in long-range planning, but opined the current issue deserves more study now.

Defining the panel’s purpose as helping provide guidance and direction about where the community wants to be in 15 to 20 years, committee member Mills Herndon said, “That’s a lot. That’s a huge responsibility. That’s a challenge.”

He is pleased at the diversity of the group and glad the committee received the ag-land situation for study.

Recalling the group’s initial meeting, Herndon said he thought everyone in the room “knew this thing was on the books.”

Commissioners’ proposal is confusing and came too quickly, said Herndon, First Thomasville Realty owner/broker. Among his company’s specialties are farm and timber tracts.

“I consider that a victory,” Herndon said, referring to the citizens committee’s receipt of the ag-land issue.

Dr. Jimmy Clanton, a veterinarian, said all Thomas countians must be good stewards of what was passed down by forefathers. The gifts must be handled with care to ensure future generations reap benefits, Clanton added.

“I’m there to serve the people,” Clanton said, describing his panel appointment.

Clanton want the citizenry to work together to preserve the community’s integrity.

He hopes the solution to the ag-land dilemma will please everyone.

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 220.

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