For most of its 110 years as a town, Caledonia has adopted a “the fewer rules the better” approach.
But as the community continues to grow — the town has added more than 40 news businesses over the past 20 years — some sentiment for bringing a more orderly approach to that growth has emerged.
“During the election, a lot of the candidates campaigned for zoning ordinances and bringing in building codes,” said Mayor Mitch Wiggins, a former alderman who was elected to the mayor’s office on July 18. “I think there is some support for it, but I don’t think the feeling on the board is unanimous. There will be some opposition if building codes come up. There are pros and cons.”
Wiggins has called a special call meeting for 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at Town Hall for a work session that will take a wide-ranging look at city regulations, primarily establishing planning and zoning. The subject of building codes is likely to emerge from those discussions.
“The main focus is trying to put together a municipal plan and that includes looking at zoning ordinances to keep businesses in business areas and residences in residential areas,” Wiggins said. “But other topics that are related could come up.”
Planner Chris Watson, of the Oxford-based Bridge and Watson, will attend the meeting to explain planning/zoning options, make suggestions and answer questions from board members.
Matt Furnari, one of three new aldermen elected in July, said he is eager to hear what Watson has to say.
“I think we are really in the beginning stages right now and I’m glad we have someone to explain the process to us,” Furnari said. “We’ll take that information and use it to make a decision that we believe is best for the town. I am in favor of having zoning and building codes. But we have to get all the information first.”
Wiggins said he’s heard from several business owners who say the time has come to adopt zoning ordinances.
“I think they feel having zoning protects their property values,” Wiggins said. “As for building codes, one of the things we would have to look at is how that affects current businesses, if it affects them at all.”
Wiggins said when Lowndes County established its business codes in the 1970s, the town opted out.
“I’m just speculating, but if we did choose to have building codes, we would probably adopt the codes the county uses. That way, we might be able to work something out with the county to use their building inspector and pay for it from the fees we collect.”
Alderman Tammy McCool, who owns Caledonia Package Store, said she is intrigued by the idea of the town government taking a more active role in managing the town’s growth.
“I’m open-minded,” she said. “I want to hear what the citizens have to say about it and learn everything I can about the subject so I can make a decision that’s best for the town and the citizens.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, not only about zoning but other things. One question I have, as a business owner, is if we adopt zoning what does that mean to the existing homes and businesses. How are they affected? I do feel like bringing in experts it the right way to go to start the process.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.