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US

Georgia town has it all -- and too much of it

The old Cherokee County....
The old Cherokee County....  
...the new Cherokee County
...the new Cherokee County

RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Bruce Burkhardt visits a booming suburban county
Windows Media 28K 56K
 

This article is part of a companion series to "Sprawl America," a look at suburban growth airing nightly this week on CNN at 8 p.m. EST.

In this story:

November 23, 1998
Web posted at: 9:51 p.m. EST (0251 GMT)

From Correspondent Bruce Burkhardt

CANTON, Georgia (CNN) -- Less than 20 years ago Cherokee County was a sleepy, rural place. Mules still grazed on local farms.

Since then, Cherokee has become a bedroom community for Atlanta, doubling in population -- a change signaled by a flurry of For Sale signs and new subdivision markers. And in the next two decades, its population could double again.

Welcome to an American sprawl community. Cherokee County, Georgia, has it all: natural beauty, a booming economy and a growing amount of real estate.

But with the boom comes the baggage: a dwindling amount of rustic scenery, a growing number of traffic jams and a school system overwhelmed by new students.

Chapman Elementary School was designed for 800 students but now holds more than 1,300, one-third of them in classroom trailers.

"I think that's the case in this county and in metropolitan Atlanta. We're going to be faced with mobile units for the duration, I would think," Principal Mike Green says.

"This is my seventh year at this school, and we've seen our mobile units increase every year," he says.

A new school down the road is expected to open, but not until the year 2000. And it won't be enough to ease all the crowding, school officials say.

Parents give Green high grades for coping with the crowds, but the head counts keep going up.

Growth -- at a price

So does the county's cost of managing growth. The newly elected Cherokee County chairman says each newcomer costs more in services than they bring in taxes.

"The development in the last 10 years in the county has occurred so frequently and so intensely in certain areas ... that there is no way that the tax base has kept up," says Chairman-elect Emily Lemcke.

"An example of that is the voters have had to approve two 1 percent sales tax increases to cover new school and new road construction. And we still haven't kept up," she says.

But school trailers and stifling traffic are just the beginning of the problems here.

Lake Allatoona
Lake Allatoona  

Runoff from lawns, streets, golf courses and septic tanks and erosion from construction sites are threatening an important reservoir.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Lake Allatoona, like many suburban reservoirs in the United States, could be off-limits as a drinking water source in 10 years.

The Atlanta region, as many metro areas, is fighting an often losing battle with federal air and water pollution standards. Here and elsewhere federal mandates could bring house and highway construction to a screeching halt.

Fighting to keep green

Another challenge facing sprawl communities like Cherokee: the more newcomers are drawn to its wide-open spaces, the fewer such places remain.

When a parade of developers flooded the county courthouse with new zoning applications this autumn, sprawl opponents turned out by the hundreds, applauding the commission when it rejected motions to rezone properties for residential building.

Whatever the county's problems, local growth advocates say unemployment isn't one of them. Jobless rates are well below the national average.

And county officials hope the concern over sprawl will make Cherokee a pioneer in conservation subdivisions, characterized by built-in nature trails and shopping within walking distance.

But skeptics say sprawl is a numbers game that will be hard for Cherokee County to win as its population doubles -- again.

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