Planning Commission considers ordinance changes
By Stephanie Johns
The Morgan County Planning Commission approved all of the nine petitions that came before it Thursday night, including one for a variance to lot size and eight for changes to the county’s Zoning Ordinance.
The three-and-a-half hour long meeting began with a petition for a variance to minimum lot size at 562 Sycamore Drive, Madison. The lot is within the Valley Farms subdivision, which has a majority of lots that are substandard in size, according to County Planning Director Chuck Jarrell.
Jarrell urged commissioners to make it very clear in their motion that while the smaller lot size is not unusual for this neighborhood in no way is it the county’s new standard.
Louis Tooker, owner of the property, pointed out that there are four lots in that neighborhood that are one-eighth of an acre – even smaller than his request. He said he was “very comfortable” with the 57-feet of frontage created by the smaller lot size as it fits into the neo-traditional neighborhood.
One of Tooker’s neighbors, Janet Ferrill, spoke in favor of approving Tooker’s request.
“Nobody in the neighborhood has expressed negative feelings,” she said.
Jarrell then began his presentations pertaining to the requested ordinance changes.
His first request was that the commissioners remove the following zoning districts: agricultural estate, office institutional (OI), lakeshore marina, lakeshore park, as well as the removal of the workforce housing ordinance. He also requested that they add a recreation conservation zoning district.
The agricultural estate zoning district was added in 2005 but has received “zero interest” since that time, he said. There is only one parcel zoned OI and Jarrell said the owner is okay with changing from the OI to the general commercial (C2) zoning district.
As to the lakeshore marina and park districts, Jarrell recommended those be removed and replaced with a more inclusive recreation conservation zoning district.
“There are recreational areas throughout the county, not just at the lake,” he said.
The workforce housing ordinance is “problematic” in that the market drives the cost of homes and there is no water or sewer available in the county outside of Madison so it is “not feasible” to developers, according to Jarrell.
He added that commissioners can always put this back in the ordinance at a later time once the housing market improves.
Commissioners then heard from the public.
Jeanne Dufort shared that she was part of the group that “thrashed out” the workforce development ordinance.
“It’s not a surprise that no developer has requested this because there has been no new development,” she said. “I liked being mindful of the need for workforce housing.”
She added that workforce housing benefits firemen, police, and teachers, among others.
Bob McCauley said that he was “unable to fathom” the definitions section and was concerned about conflict among the sections.
“Take a pause and take a breath,” he said, later adding, “These are vague and ambiguous provisions on which lawsuits are made.”
When asked by Commissioner Joe Cardwell, McCauley agreed that the proposed revisions are a step in the right direction.
Jarrell said that most of the definitions came from the previous ordinance but had been pulled from various chapters into chapter three. For any definitions they did not already have they referred to the American Planning Association definitions as a guide.
“We’re trying to reorganize the ordinance to make it user friendly,” he said, adding that complaints about the ordinance were that it included repetitive and scattered information.
McCauley spoke again and said that the definitions are still “somewhat flawed” and they need a “sanitizing process.”
Jarrell assured those present that county planners and commissioners were going to go back and address each section of the ordinance as a whole.
Planning Commission Chairman Brian Lehman recommended that those present make a list of the definitions they would like to see changed as well as their recommended language and provide that information to the commissioners.
“This is a big undertaking,” he said, adding that, “By and large, these are reasonable definitions.”
Christine McCauley had questions about the definitions for processing and second-hand goods.
“We need to be agriculture friendly in Morgan County,” she said.
Commissioner John McMahon said that the definitions do not close the door for future changes.
“We can add and modify items,” he said.
Commissioner Lane Dennard said that they had too much to deal with in one meeting.
“Why not wait,” he asked.
Commissioner Wes Holt said that he felt uncomfortable passing the definition revisions.
“It’s too much, too quick,” he said.
Lehman pointed out that if they did not vote on it that night, then the definitions would remain scattered throughout the ordinance.
Commissioner Scott Campbell said that as a whole, the document must be recognized and then they can individually address each ordinance.
Cardwell asked if the changes limited what agricultural people can do and Jarrell responded that the changes would allow them to do more.
Five voted in favor of accepting the changes while two voted in opposition.
They then discussed the request regarding Article Four Zoning Districts and Maps.
Jarrell said they are bringing multiple articles into this chapter.
These changes included removing agricultural use and notice waiver, which Jarrell described as “unenforceable.”
It also included updated charts of permitted and conditional uses by zone.
Lehman said the chart simplifies the ordinance in and of itself. Jarrell agreed and said it eliminates “many, many pages.”
They then discussed a petition regarding the General Requirements article in the ordinance.
Jarrell said there were no real changes to the language as it mostly relocated chunks of text that were repeated in multiple sections and consolidated them.
The next item on the agenda dealt with the Regulations for Zoning Districts in the ordinance. Jarrell went over the changes. Neither commissioners nor the public commented before the vote.
The Regulations for Specific Uses article in the ordinance was next on the agenda. This was the longest section up for discussion and included details about manufactured homes, recreational vehicle parks, and accessory dwellings such as barns or garages with apartments.
Jarrell then led those present through amendments to the Environmental Regulations, Tree Protection, Landscaping and Buffering, and Planning Commission.
Linda Woodworth then spoke up regarding her concerns about the lack of ‘farm stay’ language. She said they are not a bed and breakfast and having the county classify them as such might require them to follow Health Department regulations and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements as well.
Lehman recommended that she meet with Jarrell and Senior Planner Tara Cooner to provide the county with language pertaining to a farm stay.
He closed the meeting by noting that while they had differences of opinion, the approved changes to the ordinance will “facilitate things immensely.”
Printed in the November 1 2012 edition.