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Developers must post erosion-control bond

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Developers, who build in Henry County, must now post a $1,000 (per acre) erosion-control bond, to cover any potential damage to the environment, and any damage they cause will be accessed by the acre.

The bond requirement is part of a revised ordinance approved this month to guard against soil erosion and for sedimentation control, county officials have said.

"We didn't have it in place before," said George Patterson, a civil engineer with the Henry County Building Department. "We've already started collecting those bonds for newer developments."

The bond requires developers to pay the building department an upfront fee of $1,000 "per disturbed acre," said Patterson. "If they [developers] leave without finishing the construction, or if the project results in soil erosion or environmental damage, they will be required to clean it up, and repair the damage, in order to receive a refund," he explained.

"If the guy walks away and his silt fence is raggedy and torn down, we keep that money," he added. If found guilty of a violation, the developer could face additional punishments as well, said Patterson.

County commissioners approved the updated ordinance during a meeting on June 1. The ordinance amends the Code of Ordinances of Henry County to create a subchapter in the county code titled, "Soil Erosion, Sedimentation, and Pollution Control."

Patterson added: "They [developers] also can be cited in the court system, and they can be penalized by the soil and water districts, by the Environmental Protection Division [and] by the [Army] Corps of Engineers." He said the changes to the ordinance were needed, because the last time the county updated its erosion-control ordinances was in 2004.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources requires local issuing authorities to periodically amend their erosion and sedimentation ordinances, he said. The deadline to complete the amendments is July 1.

When the board of commissioners adopted the county's Unified Land Development Code (ULDC) in September 2009, the goal was to provide builders and developers with a single document containing clear development standards and guidelines, said Julie Hoover-Ernst, county communications director. The revised ordinances successfully address a multitude of issues, from construction materials, to lot sizes and setbacks for properties, said Hoover-Ernst.

"The downfall in the economy that brought residential construction to a screeching halt, and left subdivisions half-built-out, and often bank-owned, had created a loop in the code with potential adverse consequences for homeowners in these subdivisions," she said. "As a result, developments that were platted and approved under the old code, with some homes already on the ground and occupied, could have seen new homes added under the new set of guidelines, resulting in mismatched, piece-mealed neighborhoods that were not cohesive."

The county is using the lull in building, caused by the depressed economy, to update its soil erosion-and-control ordinances to prepare for future development, said Amelia Ivey, accounts administrator for the county building department.

"When things are slow, it gives you the opportunity to really improve," she added. "You can take your time and really see what mistakes may have been made in the past, and what can be changed. Therefore, everything's already in place, so when things pick up, you can keep moving."

Hoover-Ernst said the new language in the ULDC states that "subdivisions platted prior to the adoption of the Unified Land Development Code (ULDC), on Sept. 15, 2009, shall retain all development standards in place at the time of zoning/platting."

The changes will ensure that the original zoning requirements approved by the board of commissioners for such subdivisions will continue to be in effect, even if ownership of the development has been transferred, Hoover-Ernst said.