Related topics

Rich Are Changing Poor Georgia Town

October 12, 2000

GREENSBORO, Ga. (AP) _ A decade ago, this was just another poor, rural Southern town, and no one seemed to care much about the broken-down tractors and the junk along the side of the road.

Then the ``lake people″ moved in.

Lured by the beauty of Lake Oconee, they built enormous homes, drive stylish new cars and eat fancy foods from supermarkets the size of airport terminals. They also pay most of the property taxes in Greene County, which used to be one of Georgia’s poorest and least-populated.

Some old-timers say the well-to-do newcomers are robbing the area of its rural character, trying to pretty it up with restrictive new zoning rules and turning the community into just another place with too much traffic, shopping centers and residents who don’t really know each other.

``It was a rural area when they came down here,″ said Andrew Boswell, Greensboro’s mayor and a dairy farmer. ``Well, if they came because it’s a rural area, that’s what they ought to expect.″

The 19,000-acre lake, Georgia’s second-largest, was built 21 years ago by Georgia Power. In recent years, it has led to a real estate boom, with million-dollar homes in three subdivisions and a new $82 million Ritz-Carlton resort scheduled to open next year next to an 18-hole golf course.

New roads and utilities are planned to handle the mix of out-of-state retirees, people with second homes and commuters with jobs in Atlanta and Augusta, each 75 miles away. There are 14,000 residents in the county, some 2,300 more than a decade ago.

Mary and Don Bradford moved to the lake from suburban Atlanta in 1998 to escape the traffic, sprawl and crime. A pilot for Delta Air Lines, Bradford has to commute to work only a few times per month.

The county stands to benefit enormously from the influx of wealth, Mary Bradford said, even if officials are struggling to achieve a balance between tradition and development.

``They don’t know what to do with us either,″ she said of county leaders. ``They were just a little town and now all of this is happening.″

Longtime residents _ they have dubbed themselves ``cave people″ for their resistance to change _ unsuccessfully fought recent zoning changes that restrict satellite dishes in front yards and require fences around junkyards. The new rules also require tractors and other equipment to be behind buildings, not beside the road.

The ``cave people″ say county commissioners are coddling the newcomers.

``That’s part of making it look like Hilton Head,″ said L.G. ``Rooster″ Boswell, the mayor’s brother who has lived in the county for all of his 68 years. ``They don’t want to see poverty.″

Many longtime residents make their living on dairy and hog farms or work at small-scale manufacturing plants. Others commute to jobs around bigger towns such as Athens, Augusta and the eastern suburbs of Atlanta.

County leaders are eager for an economic boost in an area where the per capita income is less than $20,000 and nearly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. The Ritz-Carlton alone is expected to contribute a third of the county’s tax revenue and bring 400 to 450 jobs.

Such rural transformations are becoming common across America, particularly near sprawling urban areas that are pushing people toward the countryside.

``Agriculture has been sort of a sacred component to the American mindset for a long time, so we have a lot of goodwill toward it,″ said Jeff Sharp, an assistant professor in the rural sociology program at the Ohio State University. ``But these multiple uses of the countryside are not necessarily compatible with each other.″

John Williams, a real estate agent who has bought and sold property around Lake Oconee since 1983, praised the zoning changes as a way to keep the eyesores like junked cars and roadside trash from becoming worse.

As for the opposing sides, Williams said: ``I don’t think they’ll ever accept each other.″


On the Net:

Reynolds Plantation: http://www.reynoldsplantation.com

University of Georgia: http://www.selig.uga.edu

Georgia links: http://GaUSA.com

Update hourly