By Billy Corriher
Today there are an estimated 253,500 people living in Clayton County. By 2010, that number is expected to swell to almost 290,000 and the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan will help determine where those people live, shop, work and play.
The plan is essentially a "guide for growth," said Theresa Crow, the county's long-range planner. It will determine what type of growth occurs in the county and how dense development will be.
Eddie Williams, director of community development for the county, said the county has grown tremendously since he started working here 19 years ago. The population has increased by more than 100,000 since 1980, when there were slightly more than 150,357 people in the county.
The biggest change that came with the population growth, he said, has been congestion on the roads.
Williams said the booming population means the county needs more mixed-use developments, like the planned Ellenwood Town Center project, because such developments include stores, office space and homes.
"Everything's right there, so a lot of times, people don't even need to drive," he said. "I believe it'll be great for the area."
Mixed-use and urban developments are the opposite of the suburban sprawl development that's been rampant in past decades, said Economic Development Director Emory Brock.
Although Brock said suburban style development will probably continue in the southern part of the county, where the urban landscape of metro-Atlanta has not yet spread. The new land use plan will look at protecting existing green space in that area, Brock said, but also planning for new development in the mixed-use style.
In the northern part of the county, the biggest change will be more urban-style development.
Brock said many projects, like the county's Gateway Village project and the construction at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, will mean even more people in the county.
Brock said he would like to see more office space and high-density housing around the airport, which is one of the Southeast's largest independent employers.
"There is a market there for quality residential development," he said. "It's a huge market that's totally untapped."
And if the proposed commuter rail line from Atlanta to Lovejoy is installed and eventually extended to Macon, it will have a huge impact on the cities that have rail stations, Morrow, Forest Park, Jonesboro and Lovejoy, Brock said.
Jonesboro and Forest Park have been working on their Livable Communities Initiatives, which seek to revitalize their downtown areas, all centered around a commuter rail station.
"We're only speculating on what could be," Brock said.
But Brock said one thing is certain, Clayton County's population will continue to skyrocket as more and more people are drawn to the metro-Atlanta area, making this new development plan crucial for the county's future.
The plan must be revised every 10 years according to state law and this year, the county is revising the plan with guidance from a steering committee made up of 19 different community representatives.
At its first meeting last week, the steering committee discussed housing and development's impact on the county school system, Crow said.
"We discussed how we could attract more upscale housing for professionals," Crow said, adding that upscale housing was an objective in the last plan, but the new plan might focus more on that goal.
Robert and Company, the firm the county hired to revise the plan, will hold "envisioning" sessions to get public input on the plan.
Riverdale resident Alita Knox, who said she is serving on the county's steering committee simply as a concerned citizen, said it is important that ordinary residents have a hand in what the county will look like in the future.
"There's a lot of potential for growth," she said. "We've just got to make sure we manage it."