Highlands Planning Board gets first look at ‘Plan’

At a special Planning Board meeting Tuesday night, board members and four citizens who turned out for the meeting got a chance to ask questions, make comments and voice concerns about the draft Highlands Community Plan.

Jake Petrosky of the Stewart company, which has been developing the plan over the past year, discussed the purpose of the plan which makes recommendations about Highlands’ future for the next 10-20 years – recommendations that came to light through meetings, walking tours and citizen and business surveys.

“The Highlands Community Plan is a comprehensive plan that lays the groundwork for current and future regulations, but it is meant to be a reoccurring conversation,” said Petrosky. “This is a policy guide that can influence regulations.”

During the public comment period, Tom Coley, president of the Dog Mountain Property Assn, said he was there to voice Dog Mountain property owner’s opposition to short-term rentals (STRs) in R1 neighborhoods.

“I’m hoping you can do something about short-term rentals,” he said. “We fear a loss of community and have experienced loud gatherings on decks after midnight, trash, vandalism and excess speeding on our road.”

Member Darren Whatley said the number of complaints logged with the police department concerning STRs is in the single-digits and people need to be more proactive and report disturbances to the police if they want to control what is going on in their neighborhoods.

Member Helene Siegel suggested the Dog Mountain Homeowners Association be more active regarding short-term rental allowances, possibly update its covenants to allow or not allow them. However, Coley said the HOA had basically dissolved and their covenants had sunset and reinstating the HOA would be a legal matter that wasn’t being considered.

Petrosky said STRs were a passionate subject with 62% of people who completed surveys voicing concerns about them, but 61% of those who filled out the business survey said more hotels and rentals would help business.

Beyond STRs, the plan outlines recommendations concerning Land Use & Housing, Downtown & Tourism, Recreation & Natural Resources, Transportation, and Infrastructure & Public Services.

Public input voiced concerns about walkability in town citing the importance of sidewalks and their connections and more lighting so walking at night, specifically off Main Street is easier and safer.

“Main Street lighting is good but off Main it’s not,” he said. “For instance, Oak Street pedestrian options are very poor.”

Protecting the water supply, specifically Lake Sequoyah, was noted and the lack of sewer connections and the cost of outfitting all the town with sewer is a concern.

Petrosky said retrofitting septic tanks near Lake Sequoyah is being discussed and the town has applied for grant funding to do that there. 

He noted the fact that many people outside the town limits along US 64 east want to hook on to the town water and sewer.

“Limiting water and sewer keeps the town’s footprint small but allowing it might be OK when it is beneficial to the town in a specific area,” he said. “But allowing development – if not part of the town through ETJ – could be done to town standards through a partnership of some kind with Macon County, even though it doesn’t have much in the way of zoning.”

Petrosky said such a partnership with the county could be done with a limited zoning overlay for an area outside of town without voluntary annexation or invoking ETJ.

Of course, parking downtown was another hot issue – surveys showed there are those for more parking and those against it.

Metered parking spaces in the downtown area was a recommendation made by Stewart saying metered parking is a lot cheaper than building a parking deck. 

“You get more out of parking spaces because metered parking encourages turnover,” said Petrosky.

Member Nick McCall asked if metered parking wouldn’t really just benefit the town.

“Studies show that retail establishments benefit from metered parking,” said Petrosky.

He suggested metering a certain number of spots to begin with to see what happens. He also said a “local” plan, which is done in many areas, could include permits for locals who would be allowed to park for free.

The plan recommends more mixed-use areas which could possibly help with the housing situation through zoning changes. 

To review the draft plan and to stay up-to-date, go the plan website HERE.

People can also provide comments on the draft plan by clicking HERE.

Petrosky will be making the same presentation to the Town Board, tonight, July 15 at 7 p.m. in the Community Building. Everyone is welcome.

Article by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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