Cherokee County’s rezoning process is as transparent as most, but it always can get better. To improve, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners is working on some changes to the county’s zoning ordinance.
One of the changes would eliminate routine postponements of zoning hearings. Often, when a controversial case with a lot of opposition is on the Cherokee County Zoning Board’s agenda, the applicant or developer seeks to postpone the case. Sometimes, there’s a good reason, but sometimes it’s just in hopes the opposition will weaken. The current ordinance allows one postponement at the applicant’s request, if made seven days before the hearing. The proposed change would eliminate at-request postponements. Once advertised, the hearing would go forward unless there’s a true emergency.
Another proposed ordinance change would require a second public hearing at a Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting whenever the Planning Commission recommends a different zoning than requested by the applicant. These are situations that tend to give rise to meetings between the applicant and some members of the BOC, with negotiated settlements sometimes reached. But, before we approve more intense zoning than recommended by the Planning Commission, we want to give the public another chance to speak out.
The commissioners always have been willing to meet with members of the public involved in a zoning case, whether it’s the developer or those in opposition. But, we plan to adopt a resolution to put that commitment in writing. Only one or two of us can participate in such meetings. The Georgia Zoning Procedures Act requires advertising, time-keeping and other formalities if a quorum of the board meets to discuss a zoning application.
The ordinance already requires public participation meetings for most rezonings, as a part of the process. The commissioners usually do not attend, since these meetings are intended as a chance for the developer and the neighbors to work out issues in a nonpolitical atmosphere before the zoning is heard. Those meetings will continue to be required.
At this writing, the county planning staff is working to draft the proposed changes to the ordinance. Then we’ll schedule a public hearing, as required for proposed ordinance changes, especially those involving zoning. We’ll hear from interested members of the public, discuss the changes, and determine whether and how to go forward.
The hearing likely will be in September. If you’re interested, watch for it on our agenda and please attend. We hope the changes will make our zoning process the most transparent in Georgia.
As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or anything else to make or keep our county great. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Harry Johnston, contributing writer and chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.