Joanna Duncan lives in McDonald and Mike Graves’ home is in Georgetown. The two were appointed to replace Stacey Tucker and Dr. Lindsay Hathcock.
Duncan has been active in long-range strategic and comprehensive planning during the past two years to help preserve the rural lifestyle of an area where residents feel encroached upon by Hamilton County to the south and Cleveland from the north. The most immediate concern is the Spring Branch Industrial Park and development surrounding Exit 20 on Interstate 75.
Graves is a real estate broker and auctioneer with Crye-Leike Real Estate Services in Athens. He was one of the principal speakers in May who spoke against rezoning 223 acres bordering Georgetown Road and Francisco Road N.W. from Forestry/Agriculture/Residential to General Industrial.
Graves said during the May planning commission meeting the western part of the county is one of the prettiest in Bradley County and, “I do not, nor [does] my family, want it turned into an industrial park. What it is good for is raising cattle, kids and families.”
Both Graves and Duncan would like to see future development reflect the current landscape and its residents. Neither is against anything in particular, but at the same time, they don’t want to see someone try to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, or conversely ruin a silk purse.
Duncan said Cleveland is sprawled with small, undeveloped pockets.
“It’s not cohesive,” she said.
She would like to see that remedied before growing beyond the city’s current boundaries.
Georgetown is feeling pressure from Hamilton and Bradley counties and uncertainty about future plans to widen Georgetown Road between I-75 and Highway 58. There is less growth pressure from Meigs County. It is a unique spot where neighbors live in three different counties.
Graves said Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis invited him to accept an appointment to the planning commission.
“He told me they like varying viewpoints and he thought I had one,” Graves said laughingly. “I think I just really represent the people out in that area. We’re small-time farmers and most of them are out there because they like it. They wanted to be in an area that had small farms.”
Likewise, Duncan said Davis contacted her about three months ago. She was not inclined to accept the appointment. But, she recently decided she could help protect and provide feedback to the community.
“I am here to serve the community, the McDonald Community specifically. McDonald is going to be hugely impacted by a lot of the growth considering how close we are to Hamilton County,” she said.
Duncan is a stay-at-home mom of three children with a professional background in commercial design. She grew up on a beef cattle ranch in Georgia and tried living in town, but the family just didn’t feel comfortable in that setting.
“We moved out of the city to the farm. We all like the acreage. My husband works in town and he loves to come home and get on the tractor,” she said. “We like for the kids to have space and everybody out there has horses, dogs and kids. We like that rural lifestyle.”
McDonald and Georgetown are similar in that most residents there work in Cleveland or Chattanooga and go home at night to get away from urban activity.
“Farming is not our way of life but we like to get out there and brag about our tractors and tell about our five-cow herd — it’s pretty funny, or we meet up at the local diner and tell everybody about how many acres we have — we have a liars’ club up there,” Graves said. He doesn’t participate much, but “I can hold my own.”
He has been involved in real estate in some aspect for about 40 years and, having been a developer facing the ire of neighbors, he can sympathize with the developers.
“I think I can contribute in some degree because I’ve experienced a lot of what these people (neighbors) are going through in one way or the other. I may be a little more sympathetic to them than I am the commission, but I guess that’s part of the differences,” he said.
During the May confrontation between the commission and residents, chairman Tony Young, also a Crye-Leike auctioneer and Graves’ former principle, commented that he served on the Bradley/Cleveland Industrial Development Board in addition to the planning commission to help bring jobs for the next generation to the community.
“I think Tony and I have some differences of opinion on this,” he said.
Duncan said there are people in McDonald on both sides of the growth fence.
“I am here to protect, certainly everyone’s right to do what they want (on their property), but try to get some kind of cohesive view and some respect for what exists, versus incoming growth,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting. I’m not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into —,” she said with a laugh, “but there was just something nagging me in the back of my head telling me I should give this a shot.”
Graves said the May rezoning effort actually brought Georgetown residents together and proved to be the genesis of the Georgetown Preservation Society comprised of concerned citizens.
“Most of us out there recognize growth has given us a good income, but not everything is made to develop,” he said. “Maybe it’s better sometimes to leave things the way they are for the lifestyle of the people who are willing to pay for it and be there. We bought our property and we want it to be that way.”
But, with that being said, both Duncan and Graves realize they are supposed to represent the best interests of Bradley County.
It is a balancing act.