June 14, 2013

Voters deserve full explanations on zoning decisions

The Daily Citizen

— The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners surprised many people earlier this week when members voted to rezone 1.46 acres at 1902 Dug Gap Road to general commercial from neighborhood commercial. Owners of the property plan to bring a Dollar General store to the site, and they needed the zoning change because the store will be larger than allowed under neighborhood commercial.

The zoning planning staff as well as the Dalton-Whitfield Planning Commission recommended against the change, and at the planning commission hearing, many residents of the neighborhood near the property showed up to oppose the change.

But the fact the commissioners rejected the advice of the staff and of the planning commission does not mean they did anything improper. The staff and the planning commission are charged with making sure that a property’s use conforms with current zoning laws and future land use plans. The Board of Commissioners must take a larger view, looking at the impact on the local economy and on the overall well-being of the county.

Commissioner Lynn Laughter said she struggled with the decision to change the property’s zoning. But she said the site is currently just “a hodgepodge of buildings that look awful.” Laughter said the land creates stormwater drainage issues for surrounding areas, and Dollar General moving in will address that as well as the fact the spot is an eyesore.

Those are exactly the sorts of factors commissioners should consider.

Having said that, county officials put a lot of time and money into developing long-range plans. When commissioners choose to deviate from those plans, each and every one of them owes the public an explanation for why they did so. Even better, they need to explain the principles they will use to make those decisions before they are called on to vote on any particular zoning change.

Elections are coming up next year. Those who plan to run for the Board of Commissioners should start thinking now about zoning issues, and voters should demand to know how candidates would go about deciding when some of these issues come before the board.