Following some brief business at a regular meeting May 11, the county planning commission discussed their role in zoning/ land use process and the public’s misconception of their powers.
The discussion arose as part of board comments during a regular meeting when commission member Linda Casey noted the heated discussion over a recent application involving planned chickens houses extended outside the meeting and continued after the zoning application was withdrawn.
Board chair Bill Cagle agreed that members of the public wishing to make their voices heard appeared to not realize that the planning commission only makes recommendations and no member of the commission has any direct powers.
Cagle said the misunderstanding was shown clearly when members of the public stated “they would never vote for them again.” For anyone who doesn’t get Cagle’s point: the planning commission is appointed not elected.
Casey said it appeared some members of the public felt whatever they voted on, “was a done deal.”
Several of the commission members expressed a desire to educate the public to the fact that the commission only has the power to make recommendations to the county board of commissioners. It is the three commissioners (Rob Jones, chair; Jerry Barnes and Becky Denney) who take recommendations and make them official.
Members acknowledged that the only time most people pay attention to their work is when there is an issue that affects their neighborhood. It was thought that a general educational campaign in the Progress would be of limited effectiveness as people would not take notice unless there was a specific issue involving specific neighborhoods.
Phil Landrum, the commission’s attorney, said it is important to remember that planning commission hearings are the only recognized time for the public to comment on land use and zoning issues. And while the commission doesn’t have a final authority on anything, they are the designated board to take public input.
He said the three-person board of commissioners, who does have the final say, is not required to hold public hearings on land use issues before casting a vote. He said they use the record from the planning commission.
In their official business: the commission voted unanimously to approve a conditional use request for R & R Towing to locate their operation to 195 Mountain Park Drive off Highway 108. The desired use will allow them to only run a wrecker service there, not any type of junkyard. Some concerns had been expressed about whether it would also include a junkyard, which it does not, nor would one be allowed there under the use permit approved by the commission.
A representative of the towing company said they had no plans for a junkyard or holding any cars long term.
And, as discussed, this approval will have to go before the board of commissioners at their next meeting to be made official.