In front of a packed room, the Franklin County Commission voted unanimously to rezone the entire county effective immediately.
Before the vote Tuesday morning, 19 people asked the commission to either vote against the proposed rezoning or to at least give more time to work with residents of the county.
Of the 19 people who spoke, one resident, Dr. Lloyd Klinedinst, even threatened the commissioners with a lawsuit if they were to vote in favor of the rezoning.
“We will pursue the matter in the courts,” he said. “And we will pursue it until we find a court of justice.”
Other topics broached by residents in opposition to the rezoning included water quality, a proposal to put the rezoning on a countywide ballot for all residents to vote on, meeting with residents of each community within the unincorporated areas of the county, and the issue of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Many citizens who spoke claimed the will of the people was not being considered and some even questioned if the commissioners were gaining something monetarily from their decision to vote in favor of the rezoning.
Past comments from the commission were also questioned regarding the number of people who were protesting the rezoning as opposed to the rest of the county residents, stating many more would be aware of the issue and would have attended the meeting, but they are at work during the day when the meeting was held.
Before the vote was taken, Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker read and ad-libbed a statement addressing many of the issues brought up by the residents Tuesday, at previous hearings and in The Missourian in recent weeks and months.
“Without doing a direct mail to every county resident, we have exceeded our statutory obligations to notify the public about this,” Brinker said. “Beginning May 15, 2018, there have been 11 planning and zoning meetings on this topic. There were also four public hearings. Three of them were at 7 p.m. and the fourth was in the afternoon. All meetings were posted publicly and there were articles in The Missourian in August, September and two in October.”
Brinker added the rezoning is a great opportunity for growth and employment in the county and the decision the commission is making does not come lightly.
“Testimony has been given in opposition and in favor of the rezoning, and we are grateful for that,” Brinker said. “During this process I have been called every name in the book and my wife has fielded phone calls. Now, we are being threatened with lawsuits even here today.”
Brinker added he blamed the animosity of those in opposition of the rezoning on fear and specifically mentioned an editorial written by The Missourian publisher William Miller Sr. on Dec. 5, 2019.
“If you live in a municipality with a sound zoning code, you have protection for your property values. If you live in the unincorporated area of Franklin County, and if the proposed changes are approved, protection of your property values will be in danger.”
“There is nothing further from the truth,” he said. “The editor’s choice to instill fear in the reading audience is irresponsible. I believe in freedom, not fear.”
As Brinker continued to speak, some of the more than 50 people in the room began to make audible comments. Brinker said he had not interrupted them when they were speaking and warned if they interrupted him again, he would have them removed from the room.
When he was interrupted again, a member of the audience loudly said “Let the gentleman speak,” referring to the commissioner.
After thanking the planning and zoning staff and briefly addressing the animal feeding operations, Brinker abruptly ended his comments.
“I won’t let my feelings overtake me,” he said. “That would be inappropriate.”
Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson told the crowd of displeased residents he has lived in Franklin County his entire life and hopes his children will also.
“Why would people say we are trying to ruin it (the county)?” Hinson said. “It’s hurtful. We would never put the county in jeopardy.”
Hinson added there has been this boogie man of CAFOs put out there by a group resistant to the rezoning.
“I’m not sure which group it is but we’ve encountered them before with the coal ash landfill in Labadie,” Hinson explained. “We’ve never had CAFOs before or since the county had zoning, especially in an area not conducive to those types of farms.”
Hinson added just because a zoning district has changed, doesn’t mean the types of things built in those districts can’t be restricted.
“This is not a dead issue,” Hinson said. “It will change and we’ve always been accommodating. The realtors asked us to give them 45 days after the last hearing to present a plan. It’s been 60 days and we’ve heard nothing from them.”
Hinson added a lot of time and effort went into the rezoning and most of the opposition to the current plans don’t offer options.
“There is no ‘the world’s going to fall if we pass this’,” Hinson said.
First District Commissioner Todd Boland, whose previous comments regarding the few people protesting as compared to the 80,000 other county residents, read an email he had received from a constituent that morning stating the rezoning needed to be put in place now to better our county.
Many, if not the majority of the people in attendance speaking against the rezoning reside in the first district of Franklin County.
No countywide zoning changes have been undertaken since 1999.
The changes approved by the county commission Tuesday, were previously rejected by a wide margin in October by the planning and zoning commission, but the final decision rests with county commissioners.
The approved plan would zone 90 percent of the county into class “W,” which would allow 42 different types of enterprises to be located in areas which are mainly residential at this time.