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Public gives input on county’s vision of future

  • Anthony Garzilli/Jasper County Sun Times Denise Grabowski of Symbioscity talks to Hardeeville councilman Carolyn Kassel before the “Jasper’s Journey: Our Next 20 Years” meeting to invite the community to discuss the county’s future.
  • Anthony Garzilli/Jasper County Sun Times Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams marks one of his favorite places in Jasper County.
  • Anthony Garzilli/Jasper County Sun Times Denise Grabowski adds to the list of what Jasper County means to those who attended the meeting.

Jasper County has its eyes on the future and it wants the community to be actively involved in the journey.

Last week Lisa Wagner, the county’s planning director, held two days of information sessions promoting the initiative: “Jasper’s Journey: Our Next 20 Years,” which is a master plan for growth and development in Jasper.

The meetings – in Ridgeland and Hardeeville – were led by urban planning consultant Denise Grabowski of Savannah-based Symbioscity. The county wants to ensure that the public has a say in the plans for the future and the meetings were the first step in a nine- to 10-month process of gathering information and talking about ideas.

“This is the chance to speak up,” Grabowski said.

The plan touches on several elements, including population, economic development, natural and cultural resources, land use and housing, community facilities, and transportation.

Dozens of people attended the meetings, which primarily focused on three questions participants were asked to answer: What does Jasper mean to you? What should stay the same? What should change?

Grabowski was interested in feedback and for more than an hour at Wednesday’s session, a lively discussion unfolded as thoughts and concerns about the county’s future were entertained.

“You live here, you work here, you know this community,” Grabowski said. “Those are really the voices we need to make sure are part of this data-collection process.”

The first question (What does Jasper mean to you?) made it clear the community cherishes its home. Whether they were lifelong residents or only moved to the area recently, the remarks were filled with an appreciation for the county.

The nice weather, retirement amenities, outdoors and recreation opportunities were named, but the overwhelming sentiment was the county’s feeling of family.

“It’s like a big hug from grandma,” a woman said. “Jasper County represents a real South Carolina feel.”

Grabowski recognized the desire for the community to maintain that sense of home as the county plans for growth.

“The community character is what’s the essence of a place,” she said. “How can we manage that growth while maintaining the sense of place that makes Jasper County unique?”

Keeping the county unique to those at the meeting meant maintaining the natural environment (rivers, streams, wildlife) as growth comes, continuation of yearly festivals and keep locally owned businesses thriving.

Things the group would change – or had concerns about – included better roads and highways; improving the quality of the schools and more vocational training opportunities; housing costs; improving relationships between the county’s communities (less competition, more communication); lowering crime; taxes; more job opportunities in the county; being prepared for the Jasper port; and the threat of loss of natural resources because of development.

Grabowski appreciated the input and stressed that the process is just beginning, but feedback from the public is valued.

“Hearing from you is really important,” she said.

As the long-range process continues, Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said it’s important to look at not only Jasper’s growth, but how that growth will affect the region. He stressed the need for all municipalities and communities to work together.

“(Growth) is going to affect everybody. We can’t think of just Jasper County, we have to think of the region. The more we cooperate, then we can accomplish all the goals at the same time,” Williams said.

Even though the meetings were last week, the public is still welcomed to give feedback. For more information, visit www.jaspercountysc.org, which includes a link to sign-up for e-mail updates. Surveys will also be developed.

More public meetings will be scheduled at a later date.

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