The Franklin County Commission unanimously approved changes to the zoning code this week after recently hearing objections raised by residents.
Suggestions made by residents to allow more public comment opportunities were rejected by the county commission. Commissioners also denied residents’ suggestions regarding increasing public notification requirements for rezonings.
In a public hearing last month, Labadie resident Patricia Schuba said residents should be allowed to make public comments on zone changes at planning commission meetings.
Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz said there is no reason to have a public hearing on rezonings before the planning commission because the county commission holds public hearings on those matters.
It would be “redundant” to have two hearings before separate boards, he added. It is appropriate to have the hearing before the county commission because it is the body that makes the final decision, Schatz added.
Schuba said she thought there would still be value in having public input at planning commission meetings. This would allow public dialogue on zone changes earlier in the process, she said.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the commission’s legal counsel has advised that the public hearings should be before the county commission.
“Therefore, I will take his legal advice,” Griesheimer said.
The changes approved Tuesday helped make the rezoning process more straightforward. Previously, the code stated that rezonings first went before the county commission, which set a public hearing on the matter. A rezoning would then go to the planning commission for a recommendation.
It was backwards to set a public hearing date before the matter went to the planning commission, Planning Director Scottie Eagan said.
Under the code changes, rezonings now go to the planning commission first, which makes a recommendation to the county commission. Planning staff then publishes a notice of a public hearing.
At the public hearing on the changes last month, some residents asked about increasing the distance requirement for notification of zoning changes.
Labadie resident Christine Alt said there may be times that residents who live beyond 600 feet of a proposed change should be notified.
At a minimum, state law requires that people within 600 feet of a proposed change be notified, Eagan said.
At last month’s public hearing, Schatz asked if the county could go beyond that distance. County Counselor Mark Vincent said, “Sure you can.”
But the 600-foot minimum was kept in the changes approved Tuesday.
‘“We are mirroring the state statutes,” Griesheimer said.
First District Commissioner Tim Brinker said he felt OK with the 600-foot distance requirement, saying it is a “universal” and standard distance used for notification.
Brinker added that he is unaware of any development going on that would demand a greater distance be imposed. It is not as though there has been a “groundswell” of the county’s more than 100,000 residents requesting an increase in the distance for notification, Brinker said.
Schatz said the distance requirement starts at the edge of the property. He agreed that the distance for notification could be increased but that may be a matter that people want to try to change through the state Legislature.
County Commission Circumvented?
Villa Ridge resident Eric Reichert said he was opposed to the code changes because they give too much authority to the unelected planning director to make decisions on what zoning changes should be considered.
The county commission should make those decisions since it was elected by the voters to represent the people, Reichert asserted.
“The new language gives all authority to an unelected bureaucrat to make that decision summarily,” Reichert said. “The commission is bypassed and has no responsibility. The citizens elected you to do your job.”
Schatz said, “I’m not putting a lot of stock in what Mr. Reichert says.”
Moreover, Schatz said he has great confidence in the planning director’s ability to make good decisions.
Department heads are appointed by the county commission to make decisions in their areas of expertise, Schatz added.