Commissioners vote to move forward on zoning

After a lengthy debate and following comments made by three opponents of zoning, the Grady County Board of Commissioners Friday morning voted 3-2 to proceed with a series of public hearings on the proposed new zoning ordinance crafted by the Grady County Planning Commission with assistance from planners with the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission.
Chairman Charles Norton and Dist. 2 Commissioner Billy Poitevint opposed having the public hearings.
“The public does not have a copy of this,” Poitevint said holding up a copy of the proposed ordinance, “and without it how can the public make statements or ask intelligent questions? I make a motion to drop it right here and now.”
Chairman Norton had to step down as chairman and temporarily turn over the meeting to Vice Chairman Elwyn Childs in order to second Poitevint’s motion.
Norton asked for a show of hands of the audience present to raise their hands if opposed to zoning and when the majority of the approximately 25 citizens in attendance expressing their opposition he commented, “that ought to tell you (his fellow commissioners) something. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Dist. 4 Commissioner Al Ball said there is a lot of public interest in the proposed zoning ordinance and because of that, the county should host the hearings.
Ball pointed out that Friday’s meeting was not advertised as a public hearing and commented, “You can’t make judgments on the small crowd that is here today. Let people see what we are talking about, ask questions, read the document and then make a decision.
“Without a doubt we will be guided by public interest,” Ball said.
Both Chairman Norton and Commissioner Poitevint indicated that the response they had had to the draft ordinance was opposition.
“I’ve yet to have one call from anyone who wanted it,” Poitevint said and Chairman Norton added, “I’ve even had people who live in the city limits of Cairo say they are opposed to zoning.”
Commissioner Ball said it was important for the county to follow the recommended procedures as outlined by the regional commissioner. He also stressed the importance of making the proposed ordinance available to the public prior to the public hearings.
“Are you proposing we send out a copy of this to every household in the county? Unless each household has one to read or you have someone stand up and read the whole thing to them,” Poitevint said.
“I’m simply saying we should make copies available and to hold the public hearings,” Commissioner Ball said.
Dist. 5 Commissioner T.D. David said, “Somewhere along the line, apparently issues arose and the need to consider something like this came about. Having an informed public is essential.”
David pointed out that the draft ordinance has not been made available to the public and, already, opinions had been formed by citizens including those present Friday morning.
“What has gotten back to me is opposition to restrictions in general, not this particular ordinance. I’m not sure who is right, but in drawing up this code – Gary Jones, Roger Godwin, Wesley Lee, Phillip Corker and Roy Jones – some who are third and fourth generation Grady countians, they put time and heart into this. Let’s give the general public the chance to hear what they say in this. I’m not for or against, but I am for an informed public and I think these hearings would provide that,” Commissioner David said.
Chairman Norton then commented that the majority of the county, under the proposed ordinance, would be zoned agriculture. “What falls under ag is just about everything we’ve got on the books with the special land use regulations,” he stated.
David acknowledged the proposed ordinance is not a “perfect document,” but he said the public hearings would provide the opportunity for it to be revised and made better.
Seeking to bring the matter to a vote, Commissioner Ball called for the question. Vice Chairman Elwyn Childs before calling for the vote stated, “I’m in favor of the public expressing their position for or against. I may not be for zoning whatsoever, but I don’t see the reason why the public should not be able to express themselves.”
Norton and Poitevint voted not to hold the hearings, but Childs, David and Ball voted against Poitevint’s motion.
Commissioner Ball then offered a motion to proceed with the scheduling of public hearings and Commissioner David seconded.
David then asked how would the county go about scheduling the hearings and where would they be held.
“We had talked about meetings at each of the 10 volunteer fire stations. You may not want to do that. Maybe just pick five or six and have them there,” Commissioner David suggested.
Chairman Norton said a minimum of two should be held in each district.
County Administrator Rusty Moye recommended that he contact Regional Commission officials and bring back a recommended schedule of public hearings.
“Let me talk with them (RC officials) and bring back a proposed hearing schedule, then you can move around or do whatever you want,” Moye said.
Chairman Norton also stated that all five commissioners should attend each of the hearings, and he would request a straw vote at each meeting. “That way, it will not be railroaded by The Cairo Messenger,” the chairman said.
Commissioner Poitevint renewed his questioning of how the document would be made available to the public. He said the public could not ask questions or argue points without knowing what is included in the document.
Commissioner Ball said to make a copy available at the courthouse and the public library and to make it known so that people have the time and opportunity before the public hearings to make copies or to read the document.
County Administrator Moye said the Regional Commission would also provide handouts at the hearings which would cover the highlights of the zoning ordinance.
Prior to the vote on the public hearings and the zoning discussion, three citizens spoke out against zoning during the public participation section on the commission agenda.
Former Dist. 1 County Commissioner George Bivins opened by saying that developers would not be buying up land in Grady County for many years to come.
Bivins predicted the United States would suffer 20 years of depression, according to him, similar to what happened to Japan.
He said that banks are “failing left and right” and he predicted they would not be making real estate loans for developers to buy land in Grady County “anytime soon.”
“Once zoning is passed, it is forever,” Bivins said. He said the courts would not allow for it to be canceled and he cited a Habersham County, Ga., case as setting the precedent.
He also predicted “you will never see a day of peace on the board of commissioners, nor indeed in code enforcement,” if zoning is passed.
The former commissioner added, “stop this public hearing business. We can’t afford it. Three commissioners and their handler, the local media, want more regulations.”
John Gainous, a lifelong farmer who lives on Cedar Spring Road, also voiced opposition to the zoning ordinance. “If I own something and you say I can’t do something with it you are taking my rights away. Not just from me but also from my children. You are deciding what I can do on my land while there are other ways to control what you are worrying about without zoning,” he said.
Randall Hall, 408 Old 84, suggested that the commissioners drop zoning and “work on something else.”
Administrator Moye said he would be working with Regional Commission officials to develop a proposed schedule of public hearings that would likely kick off in November.

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