Editor’s Note: PULASKI CITIZEN readers should know that while serving on the Giles County Planning Commission, Publisher Scott Stewart is also providing the newspaper’s primary coverage of the planning commission. It is our pledge to, as much as humanly possible, keep our opinions out of our news coverage. Opinions are relegated to the Editorial Page. Anyone who has an issue with any PULASKI CITIZEN coverage is welcome to contact Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 638-7592. Thank you.
The Giles County Commission is expected to consider doing away with the county’s land use management plan when it meets in July.
The Giles County Regional Planning Commission voted 6-5 June 1 to recommend rescinding the county’s land use management plan, which the county commission must agree with in order to do away with the legislation.
According to discussions at planning commission meetings over the past year, the land use management plan, which is a form of zoning, was approved by the county commission in 2003 on the heels of an effort to put a hazardous waste incinerator in the old phosphate mines north of Pulaski.
County Commissioner and Planning Commissioner Roger Reedy, who was among those leading the effort to pass the land use management plan in 2003, has explained at several planning commission meetings that despite exhaustive community efforts to stop the hazardous waste incinerator from going into operation in Giles County, the only thing that stopped it was three men from Maury County who purchased the land on which it was to operate.
Reedy has stressed that the county was helpless, and the land use management plan was a way to provide some regulations for these kind of nuisance uses of property in Giles County.
The county’s land use management plan, the state’s Jackson Law and the state’s nuisance laws were all adopted by the county commission in the wake of the hazardous waste incinerator scare.
While the Jackson Law, which offers state protection relative to landfills, remains in effect in Giles County, the problem with the land use management plan and the nuisance laws is that, according to county officials, nothing was ever done to enforce either of them after they were adopted in 2003.
The county commission voted to do away with the nuisance laws in the past few months, and now the planning commission is asking the county commission to rescind the land use management plan.
Almost exactly one year ago, the planning commission, which has added some new members since, responded to requests to enforce the land use management plan in residential disputes by voting to change the plan to only regulate industrial and commercial uses.
Despite efforts to find ways to make changes to the plan that would be acceptable to most of the planning commission members, one year after voting to make changes, there has been little to no progress made.
A year’s worth of frustration added to growing sentiment against the plan among some planning commissioners and the public attending planning commission meetings led to substantial discussion last week and ultimately the 6-5 vote to recommend rescinding the plan altogether.
The discussion started with recognition that written input from planning commissioners concerning the efforts to change the plan came back with a majority of negative comments indicating most were in favor of doing away with it.
Part of the discussion also surrounded statements that have been made, and an effort that had been started by a group of Giles County citizens, to identify protections already available in state and federal laws that would cover most of, if not all, of what the land use management plan was designed to protect.
County Attorney Lucy Henson, who also advises the planning commission, noted that there are protections other than the land use management plan available through state and federal laws. What those protections would be, she said, would be unclear possibly until it became necessary to enforce or litigate them.
She noted that federal environmental protection deals with air quality and other possible nuisance land uses. She also noted that the Jackson Law deals with landfills and recommended the county commission opt-in to updates to that law made in 2013.
“There are several things that do provide protection on the state and federal levels,” Henson said. “I can’t tell you what those are.”
With all that said, Henson also pointed out some of the problems with the land use management plan, including the fact that it has not been enforced over the past 18 years, and the county commission’s recent decision not to hire a building inspector leaves only the county executive to enforce the plan.
“The county executive does not need to be the one to enforce it,” Henson said.
Leaning on state and federal laws for protection, Henson said, may require individual property owners to sue to try to stop nuisance property uses in their communities.
She noted that the idea behind the land use management plan when it was passed was good, but added that it is outdated and loaded with possible enforcement problems even if the county did have someone to enforce it.
Reedy reminded his fellow planning commission members that the main thing the land use management plan does is require setbacks for different commercial and industrial uses, something that will not be required should the plan be rescinded.
Reedy pointed to adult oriented businesses, saying set back and usage requirements in the land use management plan could regulate where these types of businesses could locate.
He also noted that despite environmental laws, hazardous leaks still occur and the residents of the communities suffer because of it.
“I think we are allowing a potential catastrophe to happen in this county if we don’t put some kind of resolutions for nuisance type uses in place,” Reedy said of the idea of rescinding the current plan without something to replace it. “We need to try to have a vision of what we’re going to be in the future. I know people hate the thought of this, but what we need to do is protect the county for the future.”
County Commissioner and Planning Commissioner Tommy Pollard, restated his opposition to the land use management plan, saying he believes the necessary guidelines are present in state and federal laws.
Pollard made the motion to recommend to the county commission to rescind Giles County’s land use management plan.
Planning Commissioner John Haislip supported Pollard’s motion saying he believes everybody involved in the discussion wants to be able to come to common ground, but the fact that the land use management plan is fraught with problems and is actually a liability in itself means it should be sent to the county commission to determine its fate.
Planning Commissioner Scott Stewart asked questions concerning how and who would take on the task of determining which state and federal laws would be implemented to provide the protections discussed.
Saying he understands arguments on both sides of the issue, Stewart expressed his hesitance to do away with the one thing the county has for protection against nuisance property uses, regardless of the problems it has, without some kind of idea of how it would be replaced.
In supporting the motion to rescind the plan, Planning Commissioner Malcolm Moore asked the question: “Who’s going to protect us against laws designed to protect us?
Planning commissioners voting to recommend rescinding the land use management plan were: Haislip, David Adams, Stoney Jackson, Moore, Pollard and Erin Curry.
Planning commissioners voting against recommending the land use management plan be rescinded were: Reedy, Bill Myers, Kristen Pfeiffer, Tamieka Russell and Stewart.
The Giles County Commission will have the opportunity to agree with the planning commission’s recommendation and rescind the land use management plan, leaving state and federal laws to regulate land uses in Giles County.
The county commission could reject the planning commission’s recommendation, putting the planning commission back to the job of making changes to the land use management plan designed to remove the enforcement problems that have been identified.
As of press time for this edition the land use management plan was expected to be on the agenda for county commission’s July meeting.