Columbus splits planning, zoning boards despite protest

Published 4:21 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Metcalf said the planning board members took it upon themselves to work on water issues while there were other issues which council had directed them to work on. She and all council members thanked the planning board for their work. But some council members said they didn&39;t believe council and the current planning board could work together for the betterment of the town.

&dquo;We&squo;ve wasted so many months with the planning board and certain groups dictating what we should and should not do,&dquo; Metcalf said. &dquo;And we certainly don&squo;t need a planning board who is going to curse us in their meeting, belittle us and try to get certain groups in to make us look like the bad guy.&dquo;

Council decided to split the boards following a public hearing that drew 17 speakers, all against the town splitting the boards. All speakers told of the planning board&squo;s countless hours of researching over the past 10 months, during which the board often met weekly on new ordinances during a moratorium.

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&dquo;The issue of the wealth of knowedge that this board has is something you can&squo;t replace,&dquo; said Emily Clark.

David Weiss also said he doesn&squo;t know how the town is going to replace the current planning board&squo;s experience unless council, &dquo;gets a bunch of puppets.&dquo;

Former planning board member Eric McEntire said during all the planning board meetings over the past year there was little to no attendance by most council members except the mayor. He said trust and respect is gained from people, not demanded.

&dquo;I&squo;m embarrassed for the council to be honest with you,&dquo; said McEntire. &dquo;I know there&squo;s been some hard feelings but when you&squo;re in the business of politics you need to have thick skin.&dquo;

Jim Dorsett said hanging a sign on the door seeking new planning board members prior to council&squo;s vote is &dquo;rude.&dquo; He said the planning board is a group of volunteers who are concerned about what is going on in the town. He said he wouldn&squo;t be surprised if Columbus popped up on the &dquo;Today Show&dquo; as the little town who has a problem with volunteers.

&dquo;You don&squo;t take (volunteers) and cut them off at the knees,&dquo; Dorsett said. &dquo;You work with them and give them respect.&dquo;

Phyllis Martin said any planning board that doesn&squo;t consider such issues as the town&squo;s acquifer, as the Columbus Planning Board did, would be &dquo;incompetent and negligent.&dquo; She also said separate planning and zoning boards for a town the size of Columbus is not needed. Martin said if it splits the boards Columbus may appear on a show called, &dquo;Big Bloopers of Local Government.&dquo;

&dquo;Please don&squo;t undo the good work that you and the planning board have done,&dquo; said Martin.

Dorothy Phillips asked council how many zoning board of adjustment hearings have been held in the town in the last year. Council answered three or four.

&dquo;Then we don&squo;t really need two boards, do we?&dquo; said Phillips.

Councilman Gage said the planning/zoning board combined did not conduct zoning board of adjustment hearings properly, citing one reason he supported the split.

Former planning board member Ernie Kan said Gage&squo;s rationale seemed backwards.

&dquo;If we conducted (zoning board of adjustment hearings) wrong, according to Michael, it seems to me you would take us off the zoning board of adjustment, not the planning board,&dquo; Kan said. &dquo;I feel like part of the problem was since you all weren&squo;t at the meetings, someone was telling you what was going on and their feelings were coming out instead of ours. I&squo;m disappointed, but I&squo;m still going to be there no matter what board I&squo;m not on.&dquo;

Council also decided to stop paying its volunteer boards and to come up with rules and procedures for both its new 5-member planning board and current 7-member zoning board of adjustment. Metcalf suggested that the new rules include a clause that the boards work only at the discretion of town council.

Council members said former planning board members may re-apply to the new planning board and plans are for the new planning board to be appointed in April. Next month council plans to appoint or re-appoint two expiring terms on the zoning board of adjustment.