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Zoning change process creates dispute between boards

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By John Barnhart

    The Bedford County Planning Commission held its first meeting last week, since the completion of a public hearing on Nov. 17.

    The hearing was on modifications, proposed by the board of supervisors, to the existing zoning ordinance. Last year, the supervisors rejected a new zoning ordinance that the planning commission had developed. The planning commission has 90 days to make its recommendations on the supervisors’ changes.
    Tim Wilson, the county’s director of community development, told them that the clock started ticking on Nov. 10, when the public hearing began. The planning commission has 60 days to make recommendations to changes to the subdivision ordinance.
    “There appears to be a difference of opinion between the two bodies,” said District 5 planning commissioner Steve Stevick.
    “We were puzzled,” Stevick said in a phone interview after the meeting. “We are trying to figure out what the process is, what the timeline is and what we are supposed to comment on.”
    Stevick said that the normal process for changing the zoning ordinance has been reversed because the changes came from the supervisors rather than the planning commission. He said that the supervisors completely ignored the proposal that the planning commission presented last year.
    According to Stevick, the planning commission had presented a thorough document that was linked to the comprehensive plan adopted in 2007. Now, he believes that the supervisors are hurrying revisions to the zoning ordinance.
    “We are puzzled to say the least—and a bit dismayed,” he said.
    “It’s a very confused process that has turned on its head everything we have done,” Stevick went on to say. “When you have a document so much at odds with the comprehensive plan, it’s hard to know where to begin.”
    “It’s been a flawed process,” said District 2 planning commissioner Lynn Barnes.
    Barnes said that the supervisors have a work session scheduled for Dec. 5 in order to look at their proposed changes in light of the comments made at the public hearing. Barnes is reluctant to make any recommendations prior to that meeting because the planning commission risks commenting on something that could be totally changed on Dec. 5.
    “I think the citizens haven’t had any input on the board’s work,” Barnes said.
    The planning commission decided to have District 6 planning commissioner Derrick Noell, who serves as the board’s vice chairman, to meet with Board of Supervisors Chairman Annie Pollard to discuss the issue with her. Barnes, Stevick and District 4 planning commission member Frederic Fralick wanted to ask for a joint meeting mediated by a facilitator. District 3 planning commissioner Steve Wilkerson called such a meeting “a waste of time.”
    “We have to sit down and deliberate,” Wilkerson told his fellow planning commission members. “The sooner we get on it, the happier I am going to be.”
    Wilkerson felt that the planning commission had wasted an entire meeting, rather than get to work on the supervisors’ proposed changes. He said that the board of supervisors “needs confidence that we can make things happen and not get in the way of things happening.”
    Pollard, in a phone interview after her meeting with Noell, said that the supervisors have already rejected the new zoning ordinance that the planning commission had recommended.
    “We are not going back now,” she said.
    Pollard said that they did not ignore everything the planning commission did. She cited the proposal to combine two residential districts into one, a proposal that drew the lion’s share of complaints at the public hearing, as an example of something they carried over from the planning commission’s recommendations.
    “There are parts we liked, but some we didn’t like,” Pollard said.
    Pollard said that the supervisors are taking into account what people said at the public hearing and are also listening to what landowners tell them.
    “We didn’t reject the whole plan,” she said.
    Pollard disputed claims that the supervisors’ proposals conflict with the comprehensive plan.    
    “A lot of it is open to interpretation,” she said.