The clash stemming from proposed bylaws that developed between the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners and the county's planning commission will continue for at least another month, maybe two.
At the direction of the BOCC, the planning commission began drafting bylaws based on an original draft prepared by County Attorney Wade Gateley in the fall of 2014. Since then the two bodies have been at odds over language in the original draft regarding final approval of the commission's bylaws by the BOCC.
In the latest draft, the planning commission removed any language pertaining to BOCC approval of the bylaws along with all references to regulations. The revised draft simply points to Elbert County zoning regulations and state statutes when referencing regulatory issues. The change did not, however, resolve the disagreement between the BOCC and the planning commission; it just served to relocate it.
In addition to drafting its bylaws, the planning commission is now addressing changes to county zoning regulations that directly influence the commission. A draft of the proposed changes was forwarded to the members of the commission on Jan. 14 ahead of their regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 20.
As a result, the planning commission temporarily set aside creation of its bylaws and took up the proposed zoning regulations, concluding that the final draft of the bylaws would ultimately be contingent on the changes to zoning regulations approved by the BOCC, a process that could take a couple of months.
The proposed zoning laws contain the provision requiring the BOCC's approval of the planning commission's bylaws, as well as several other issues, such as term limits for commission members, time limits for processing applications, and perhaps the most contentious issue, a change to the number of members on the planning commission.
The planning commission is staffed by volunteers and serves in an advisory capacity to the BOCC regarding zoning and applications for development. In theory, each of the three county commissioners appoints one member to the nine-member planning commission for a three-year term. Sitting members may request reappointment at the end of their term.
However, there are currently three vacant seats on the planning commission, and two additional terms expired at the beginning of this year, leaving four members with time remaining on their appointments, though traditionally members with expired terms have continued to serve until reappointed or a new appointee takes their place.
In addition to identifying the prerequisites for appointments to the commission, the proposed zoning law reduces the number of seats on the commission from nine voting members to five. The law would also give the BOCC the option to appoint up to two associate (nonvoting) members who may be activated in order to achieve a quorum or if a member resigns. Once activated, the associate member would be eligible to vote on issues before the commission.
The BOCC's reasoning centers on the theory that a smaller planning commission would be more efficient and be able to bring recommendations to the BOCC faster than a larger one.
In their discussions, the commission proposed that the number serving on the panel should remain at nine, and each commissioner would be limited in their appointments to two applicants from their own district and one “at large” from anywhere in the county.
With the issue undecided and county appointments scheduled for Jan. 28, the BOCC may choose to postpone making any new appointments to the commission and delay formalizing reappoints for existing members.
“I think it's a little awkward to say the least, if not irresponsible, to pursue the status quo not knowing what the ultimate decision will be,” Commissioner Robert Rowland, District 1, said at a BOCC study session Jan. 21. “I would recommend that we ask the two persons expiring in January to continue to serve until a final decision is made.”
Decision regarding appointments will be made at the regularly scheduled BOCC meeting on Jan. 28.
Planning commission members also took issue with the law's requirement to complete applications within a set period. The requirement set forth in the draft establishes a 30-day limit for processing applications with a provision for one 30-day extension. Additional extensions would be at the discretion of the BOCC.
Discussions at the meeting centered on the perception that the BOCC did not fully appreciate the details involved in approving applications and establishing such narrow time constraints was impractical, especially as it pertains to larger projects such as new subdivisions.
Historically the BOCC has endorsed the recommendations from the planning commission with one notable exception. In June 2013, the BOCC voted to reject the planning commission's recommendations regarding oil and gas regulations by a 2-1 vote, with Commissioners Rowland and Kurt Schlegel voting against and Commissioner Larry Ross voting yes.
Members from both bodies have stressed the importance of a good working relationship between the planning commission and the BOCC, but these and other fundamental differences have developed over how the county will proceed with the regulations and practices, which will likely have a lasting influence on the local economy and the expected growth in the county.