The Franklin County Commission is currently deliberating a historic planning and zoning decision that would affect both residential and commercial developments and property values in the future.
The commission directed the county planning and zoning department to begin a wholesale zoning change for the county in 2017 and after nearly two years of work the new plan was presented to the planning and zoning commission.
The proposed changes would zone 90 percent of the county into class “W,” which would allow 42 different types of uses to be built in areas which are mainly residential and farming at this time.
The changes presented were rejected by a wide margin in October by the planning and zoning commission, but the final decision rests with county commissioners Tim Brinker, Dave Hinson and Todd Boland.
At a contentious public hearing Nov. 14, about two dozen residents testified against the rezoning and asked the commission to uphold the decision of the county planning and zoning board to reject the proposed zoning changes.
Although they have been permitted for 20 years and none are scheduled to be built in Franklin County, a major issue raised by the residents was the possibility of large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) moving into the county.
When the final county commission vote is taken there will be at least one definite yes by Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson.
“Hell yes, I’m voting for it,” Hinson said Tuesday. “It’s a well-thought-out plan.”
Hinson added the residents from the northeast corner of the county who are protesting the rezoning so adamantly are worried about something that would never happen in that area.
“Everything that has been brought up is just a distraction,” Hinson said. “There is no Boogie man. There will never be a CAFOs in Labadie. This all goes back to the coal ash fight.”
Hinson added if there would ever be a CAFOs operation in Franklin County, the New Haven area would be best suited, but there are no plans.
“These people have had 18 months to talk about this,” Hinson said. “But instead, they come in at the 11th hour.”
First District Commissioner Todd Boland served on the county planning and zoning commission for a number of years before being appointed to his current position by the governor last year.
He didn’t give a definite answer on how he would vote, but he seems to be leaning in the same direction as Hinson and he scoffed at the idea of hiring an outside consultant to review the zoning.
“Why would we spend the county’s money on that?” Boland asked. “ ‘We have a planning director with a degree in this and we know the county better than any outsider would. If you look at the maps there’s not a lot of changes to what was already there.”
Boland explained the new zoning puts more commercial opportunities along the highways and cleans up some existing areas where businesses are already located.
“To update this after 20 years is a good thing,” Boland said. “Nobody likes change. Twenty people may be against it, but what about the other 80,000 who live here?”
Boland added the commission received a request from Franklin County realtors to give more time for further consultation before voting on the rezoning plan.
“They asked for a 60-day extension,” Boland said. “We’ve already given them 18 months.”
As far as the CAFO issue, Boland said there has never been an operation like that in Franklin County.
“They are not an issue, especially since the state controls them,” Boland said. “I’ve been in the agriculture industry all my life and no farm is going into the hills of Labadie.”
Speaking just before Thanksgiving, Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the commission is waiting for the final transcripts of the Nov. 14 hearing to arrive and be reviewed.
He would not, however, give any inclination how he or the other commissioners may vote on the rezoning.
“I don’t know if it will be done by the end of the year, probably not,” Brinker said. “The process has been more than fair. The expertise of our county planning and zoning department will weigh heavy on the final decision.”
Brinker added the new rezoning would bring the county more in line with the master plan.
“With the main travel corridors being set up as commercial, we are making it much less rigorous for businesses to set up in the future,” Brinker said. “It’s no secret residents and business owners are not happy with St. Louis city and county and are looking elsewhere. If we preplan now, it puts us in better position down the road.”
Brinker assured residents there is no one source pushing rezoning and the county has not been approached by any large-scale farms.
Complicating the manner further is new statewide legislation that would prohibit cities and counties from placing restrictions on the enterprises that are more restrictive than the state stature allows. This legislation (SB 391) is being challenged in court.
Brinker was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting because of an illness in his family.