The public speaks
By Washington County Auditor Dan Widmer’s count, 100 people attended a public hearing on repealing the county’s zoning ordinance Tuesday night. The second-floor courtroom was too small to seat everyone who attended the hearing. Several people stood outside the courtroom during the 90-minute public hearing.
Steve Davis, vice chair of the board of supervisors, chaired the hearing. Seated at the front of the courtroom with him were supervisors Bob Yoder, Stan Stoops and Jack Seward Jr., and county attorney Larry Brock, who served as the timekeeper.
The supervisors let the residents do most of the talking. Of the 32 residents who spoke, seven were in favor of keeping the zoning ordinance, with the rest urging the supervisors to repeal the ordinance.
One of the residents in favor of zoning, Layne Twinam, grabbed everyone’s attention when he said, “I think if Jesus Christ was standing here, he couldn’t convince some of you that zoning is a good thing, so I don’t have a chance.”
Twinam has been involved in the zoning debate as a member of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, the Land Use Plan Commission, the Zoning Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission. He said that the previous board of supervisors had the vision to lead the development of the county for years to come.
Also speaking in favor of keeping the zoning ordinance was zoning administrator Steve Lafaurie.
“I believe I certainly have a unique perspective that should be considered by the board members prior to making a decision to repeal rather than to amend the ordinance,” he said.
His “unique perspective” he said is that he has been the sole person employed to administer the zoning ordinance. He said that over the three years zoning has been in effect, he’s talked to hundreds of county property owners.
“I believe many of those in favor of retaining the ordinance have grown weary and become discouraged,” Lafaurie said. “I believe that’s why they’re not here tonight.”
He also said that “myths and mischaracterizations” have been relied on by people who have persisted in their efforts to rescind zoning.
Abe Miller identified himself as a co-chair of the political action group Free County and an opponent of zoning. He said Free County has been blamed for some of the myths. The myths didn’t come from his group, he said.
Some people who want zoning repealed said that the ordinance takes away their freedom to decide what to do with their land.
“I had to ask permission from a total stranger to build a home on property that has been in my family for as long as I can remember and that I have owned for over 20 years,” said John Trier. “To me that is totally, totally, totally unacceptable.”
Scott Hastings said that he wanted to build a barn, but that he couldn’t do it because it was 9 inches too tall.
Steve Swaffer, who also served on the Zoning Commission, said the zoning ordinance had been put in place over the wishes of the people.
Former chair of the Comprehensive Planning Committee Eugene Hoyle said he can’t figure out how the zoning ordinance grew out of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
“If you don’t want people to build on land, don’t sell it to them,” he said.
On the other hand, zoning can protect everyone’s property rights, said Dave Skubal.
He thinks that if zoning is rescinded, the county could be sued.
Joel Huber also thinks the supervisors will open themselves up for problems if they repeal zoning. He also said that people who want to open sexually based business will be able to do so without zoning. He said a strip club may not make the best neighbor.
Ron Andersen is a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and a real estate appraiser. He suggested getting rid of parts of the zoning ordinance that are overly restrictive, but to keep other parts of the ordinance in place.
When the people who had signed up to speak had spoken, Davis invited other people in the audience to speak. He also said, “There’s a lot of thinking we have to do.”
When asked how long it would take to rescind zoning, Stoops said it might take a few weeks.
Seward said that the supervisors need to time the enactment of a floodplain ordinance so that people who have flood insurance won’t be harmed. He also said the repeal of zoning is on track to be effective by the end of September.