Editor’s note: This article is part of a series profiling the members of the Islands Planning and Mainland Planning commissions.
Going into his first term, newly-appointed Islands Planning Commissioner Michael Torras says he’s looking forward to continuing a tradition of serving the Golden Isles.
“I’m the fifth generation of the Torras family to live in Glynn County ... My grandfather and father involved me with the development of the Brunswick waterfront and of residential properties on St. Simons at a very early age. I’ve been reading blueprints since I could ride a bike. I am very invested in this community and want to do whatever I can to improve the quality of life for island residents and as well to preserve their property values,” Torras said.
Torras also referenced his involvement on the St. Simons Island tree ordinance committee, a collection of county residents and planning commissioners who helped create the early drafts of the new ordinance, which was approved in July.
He sees the commission’s responsibilities as very straight-forward, he said.
“From what I understand, we’re presented with items and we’re supposed to make recommendations to the county based on the rulebook, which is the county ordinances. We’re not supposed to read into the rules more than the rules say. The rules are black and white. If someone doesn’t meet the rules, you deny what they’re coming before you with,” Torras said. “... You either follow the rules, or you change them to make them work.”
In his opinion, not all on the planning commission follow what should be simple marching orders.
“One thing I’ve noticed going to these meetings is that everyone knows you have to follow the rules, but the commissioners have their interpretations of the rules they want you to follow as well. Which I don’t think is fair, because how can you plan for something if you don’t know what the rules are?” Torras said.
He continued, saying that the island should remain open to development, but on a sustainable level.
“St. Simons Island needs responsible growth and responsible development,” Torras said. “You can’t stagnate.”
Going into his first year, Torras said he looks forward to a planned evaluation of the county ordinances.
As part of its strategic plan, the Glynn County Commission set aside $200,000 in this year’s budget to pay a consultant to look over its ordinances and to offer recommendations on how to improve them and tailor them to the Golden Isles’ specific needs.
“I am looking forward to taking a look at our county ordinances and the advice of local professionals to see where improvements may be made, along with clarifying issues that some may currently find confusing or open to interpretation,” Torras said.
On the topic of recent changes to planning commission authority, Torras didn’t necessarily think it was a bad thing that the county commission removed the IPC’s authority to rule on preliminary plats.
“I know that preliminary plats have been an item of hot debate regarding the IPC in recent years,” Torras said. “However, moving these plats to the Community Development Department under the watchful eye of the highly capable Pamela Thompson was a smart move.”
Instead of putting that authority back into the hands of the IPC, Torras suggested meeting somewhere in the middle.
“You know what the (Department of Natural Resources) does, which is my experience with this, they post applications for projects on their website, and then you can write into the DNR with your comments, concerns and questions, and then they review them,” Torras said. “Maybe give (the public) a period where they can write in comments, suggestions and concerns.”
The Islands Planning Commission will meet tonight at 6 p.m. in Sea Palms Resort’s grand ballroom, 515 N Windward Drive on St. Simons Island.