Zoning on the chopping blockOver 100 people attend the Supervisors’ zoning session Tuesday
Most of the chairs in the lower level of the Washington County Extension building were occupied Tuesday night for the Washington County Board of Supervisors’ zoning ordinance work session. Thirty-four audience members offered their opinions on the county’s zoning ordinance, which has been in place for nearly three years.
Board chairman Ron Bennett opened the work session. He said zoning has been a hot issue and that the supervisors are trying to figure out what’s best for the county with regard to zoning.
Supervisor Jack Seward said the supervisors have received nearly 140 e-mails from county residents. Of those, he said, 103 want zoning repealed, 21 want zoning to remain, 11 called for major revisions and four haven’t decided if they are for or against zoning.
During the board’s Jan. 8 meeting, Seward said, “I think there is a strong feeling in the county yet that the zoning ordinance that was passed and that we currently have is an overreach and is more than what’s needed and more than what was expected when the comprehensive plan was being talked about.”
He also wondered what might be the effect of not enforcing the zoning ordinance.
Katie Mitchell, speaking on behalf of the Washington County Bar Association at the work session, spoke about the impact of a moratorium on zoning.
“As a bar association, we agreed that we would not take a position regarding the future of zoning except to voice our concern that a moratorium would be imposed,” she said. “Our members believe that a moratorium on zoning would cause uncertainty in the real estate market and cause economic development to be discouraged and confused. Prospective buyers would not be assured that the current use of a tract of real estate would be allowed when or if the moratorium was ever lifted and that would cause land values to decrease.”
No decision to not enforce the ordinance has come from the board.
Supervisor Stan Stoops made the arrangements for the work session. At the beginning of the session, he said that the people who oppose zoning and those who want to retain zoning share common ground. He said that people on both sides of the issue want to have their rights and freedoms protected.
That observation proved true as 34 county residents voiced their opinions to the supervisors Tuesday night.
The supervisors allowed each speaker to speak for five minutes, with county attorney Larry Brock serving as timekeeper. They also said that, time permitting, people could speak more than once.
Early in the session, some members of the audience applauded the comments of a zoning opponent. Seward said the session was intended to be peaceful and civil. He asked that there would be no demonstrations one way or another. The audience did as he suggested.
Bennett tried to dispel some of the “myths” of zoning. He said residents do not need to own 35 acres on which to build a home in an agriculture district, but they do need to own 10 acres. He said bed-and-breakfast establishments are allowed under the ordinance, as are home-based businesses. He said there are some regulations in place. He also said the ordinance doesn’t prohibit holiday lights and decorations, storing a boat outside or building an accessory building over 15 feet high.
Two people who served on the county zoning commission that developed the ordinance spoke — one against and one for zoning.
Steve Swaffer was one of them. He said he tried to keep an open mind and saw some good things that zoning could do. However, he said, he is a private citizen who enjoys rural living and he believes it’s important to be a good neighbor. He also opposes zoning because of the political philosophy that puts public policy decisions in the hands of a few people.
Don Kline also served on the zoning commission and he is currently chairman of the county planning and zoning commission. He said that the commission went line-by-line through the ordinance provided by a consultant and made changes to the proposed ordinance. He thinks the county needs the zoning ordinance as the county develops in the future.
One suggestion that a few speakers derided came from the Washington County Bar Association.
Mitchell suggested that the county appoint a five-member committee to study the future of zoning.
“We propose that the committee consist of a local attorney who handles real estate matters, a surveyor, the county engineer, Steve Lafaurie and a citizen,” she said. (Lafaurie is the county’s zoning administrator.)
“The power to appoint is the power to rule,” Stan Potratz said about the suggested committee.
He opposes zoning and said that zoning should protect the people of the county and not farmers who raise hogs. He said that the majority of county residents is against zoning.
One speaker said that a committee with two county employees and one citizen would be unacceptable.
Several county farmers spoke in favor of zoning. They are especially interested in the reverse setback provision in the ordinance. Hog farmers are required to build new hog buildings set distances away from neighboring rural residences.
Farmer Joel Huber said that he has spent thousands of dollars developing a manure plan for his hog operation. He also pays an annual fee ranging from $500 to $700. He doesn’t want new rural residents encroaching on his property.
Rachel Fishback and Ty Rinner made similar comments about the reverse setback.
On the other hand, Roger Lillie said he wants zoning rescinded. He said he has always dreamed of owning land and that he pays taxes on his land.
“I’ve worked my tail off all my life,” he said of his land.
Fritz Engel made similar comments. He doesn’t want zoning to keep people who want to live in the country to doing so.
Husband and wife DeLyle and Susan Winkel both spoke about what has happened on their neighbor’s property and how it has affected them. They said their neighbor has a recycle center and that garbage from there ends up on their property. An appraiser told DeLyle his property value would be worth $30,000 to $50,000 more if the neighbor would install a fence.
E. Dale Miller said that zoning is an “unneeded extravagance for the county.” He said he owns five acres of land and considers it a farm. He said he earns $100,000 from his dairy. Instead of paying for zoning permits, he would prefer to invest his money in his business. However, he also said that since zoning is the law, it should be respected and people should abide by the law.
When everyone who wanted to speak had spoken, the supervisors drew the work session to a close about two hours after the session started. They thanked everyone for coming and made no remarks about future action.