BRYAN CO., GA (WTOC) - The city of Richmond Hill plans to annex more than 5,000 acres of unincorporated territory in Bryan County for future development, but county commissioners say they weren't consulted ahead of the decision to expand.
"We're not opposed to the annexation, but what we have to do is just make sure, strategically and financially, is it the best thing for the county?" Carter Infinger, Bryan County Commission chairman, said. "Because all the city residents, they're also county residents, right? So, we just want to make sure and look at it and just take our time and not jump into anything. I always say what we do today and the decisions we make today, we need to look 15 to 20 years down the road. You know, how is that going to impact our county and the city."
Under the current plan, Richmond Hill would increase in size by 65 percent from nearly 15 square miles to more than 22. The land is owned by Raydient Places + Properties parent company Rayonier Inc., who is the largest land owner in Bryan County, according to Richmond Hill City Councilperson Russ Carpenter.
"They came to us a few months ago with an idea to annex the land," Carpenter said. "Specifically, they sought our water and sewer capabilities, and their development would very much fit in with our vision for what we have just approved in a new code of ordinances. It began then, and progressed up until last Tuesday when we took the first step."
Carpenter said Richmond Hill worked with Rayonier Inc. on the development at the industrial park, and said the designers, Raydient Places + Properties, recently developed property in South Carolina and Orlando near Disney World.
"The development that will end up on this piece of property I could not be more excited about," he said.
The council-approved plan annexes land south of the city to be used for residential and commercial development. Carpenter said two proposed schools, including the new Richmond Hill High School, are also expected to be built there.
Infinger said with annexation come questions about who is providing and paying for essential services, like water and sewer, roads, and police and fire protection.
"I was a little frustrated because I wish we would've been in in the beginning of it," he said. "We could begin working on these things, but, I mean, it is what it is. Unfortunately, we didn't know at first. We know now, so we'll just move forward from here and work with them and work on the the things we can work on."
Infinger said the county works with a larger budget than the city, and new development means more emergency personnel to pay and new infrastructure to build.
"After the vote last Tuesday, the first step will be, obviously, to sit down with the county and work out what parameters each body is going to work on, each body's going to work with," Carpenter said. "I would stress to the county this is the first step in a long process I want it to be the textbook way to annex and develop land. We'll take into account roads.Infrastructure before development. That's a huge thing. It's a part of our vision. In other words, building roads that can adequately handle the increased traffic, protect our schools. We have excellent schools in Bryan County. We want to maintain that."
Carpenter said Richmond Hill recently built a new, expensive water and sewer facility, and additional customers on the city system should help keep rates low.
Infinger said he expects the city and county to start those planning conversations before the end of the year, and both he and Carpenter said development at the site will not happen quickly.
Richmond Hill will host a public hearing for the zoning on the annexed properties on Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. at city hall, and both Carpenter and Infinger encourage residents from Richmond Hill and the unincorporated areas of Bryan County to attend.