Columbus planning board calls town proposal ‘disciplinary action’

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Columbus Planning Board members made it clear last week that they don&squo;t want to be moved to a newly created zoning board, and they again questioned the intent of the town&squo;s proposal.

Columbus Town Council has proposed that the town create a new zoning board to be filled by the current planning board members and the planning board be filled with new appointees.

The town council plans to hold a public hearing on the proposal at the beginning of its regular meeting next Thursday.

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Following a public hearing of its own last week, the planning board voted unanimously to recommend to Columbus Town Council that planning board members be kept in their current role.

They said the town is too small to need two boards, and they believe town leaders are trying to punish them following a disagreement over density requirements. The planning board presented last year a proposal for minimum 3-acre density, but town council members said they thought it was too extreme.

&dquo;There has never been a plausible justification given by any member of the town council or the town manager to restructure the town government,&dquo; the planning board said in a statement issued last week. &dquo;The proposal is principally motivated by a desire of at least some members of the council and the town manager to &39;discipline&39; the current members of the planning board for having made, in good faith, a responsible, carefully thought out, well-documented and justified proposal for density restrictions in new major subdivisions to protect the town&squo;s aquifers.&dquo; &bsp;

Planning board members and some citizens say the board has performed an important role in researching and crafting regulations to provide more protection to the town. The board proposed numerous regulations during a subdivision moratorium imposed by town council last year with the purpose of creating stricter regulations.

The town council has adopted most of the regulations proposed by the planning board, but did not agree with the 3-acre minimum density. Council members said they were concerned with how that restriction would impact not only new developments outside current town limits, such as the proposed Foster Creek Preserve, but future development within the town. They said the town must have room for some growth, and a 3-acre minimum would prohibit current property owners from subdividing existing parcels to match current density within the town.

Planning board members say their board&squo;s purpose is &dquo;advising and taking measures to protect the health and welfare of the people of the town,&uot; and the restructuring proposed by town council is not consistent with that purpose.

&dquo;The means chosen for that &39;disciplinary&39; action is not consistent with any adopted comprehensive plan that has been adopted by the town or any other officially adopted plan that is applicable,&dquo; says the planning board. &dquo;This is not reasonable nor in the interest of the public. Such a small town as Columbus has no need of two boards.&dquo;

The town council is expected to hold the public hearing on the proposed changes to the planning board at the beginning of next Thursday&squo;s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. The proposal is also on the agenda for town council&squo;s meeting Thursday so council members can consider approving the proposed changes following the hearing.