County leaders present zoning opinions, facts

By Lesley Jenkins
Star Staff
A recent decision to evaluate zoning in Stoney Creek has many residents signing surveys, making phone calls to county government leaders, and preparing for upcoming public hearings. Involvement in county government is important to many people; however, before participating in a debate on the subject of zoning, it is extremely important residents understand facts about the topic.
In 1999, when Carter County leaders decided to zone the county, many commissioners voted not to include their district. As a result, districts 1, 3 and 5 became the only zoned districts. According to state law, permitting certain districts to be zoned while others are not is legal.
County Mayor Dale Fair considers zoning a plan for the future. He refers to the word "zoning" as "planning."
"I think zoning means different things to different people. If you get five different people to define zoning, you will probably get five different definitions. I like the word planning. (It is) what you plan to do so people will know how to make an investment in their community," he said.
"If they (residents) were going to build a $200,000 house, they should kinda know what is going to be in the future of the property around them. Is it agricultural? Is it commercial? Is it a waste water treatment plant? What's it going to be?"
Without zoning, the possibilities of land use are endless, Fair said. Even with a petition and strong opposition by residents to the opening of a particular business, nothing can be done to prevent that business from opening in an unzoned district. Unzoned districts are prime targets for potentially unwanted businesses to locate.
Also, several citizens have the impression that zoning is equivalent to being forced to paint their home a certain color or to plant only certain types of trees in their yard. Some counties do have strict rules as to the appearance of houses and yards. However, according to Fair, Carter County has relaxed zoning regulations.
Agricultural land use is not restricted, he said. Landowners can raise cattle, horses, pigs and even emus if they choose. Carter County's zoning resolution states that agricultural uses are exempt from zoning.
Another area of confusion is "existing non-conforming uses". Schuettler said this is sometimes referred to as "grandfathering," but added that the term "grandfathering" doesn't exist. Existing non-conforming uses happen when a business is located in a zoned area before zoning ever took effect. These uses cannot be eliminated after zoning is passed.
Zoning the county also has nothing to do with annexation into the city of Elizabethton. Schuettler said zoning and annexation are two completely different topics and are unrelated.
"Historically, when zoning has went into an area in Carter County, property values have went up 10.5 to 12.5 percent," Schuettler said.
The Carter County planning commission will present facts about Stoney Creek business and residential growth since 1999 at a monthly meeting held on Aug. 26 at 3 p.m.
The planning commission will listen to public opinion on both sides of the issue at the meeting. Though the meeting will not be a public hearing, Schuettler said one will be held before the county commission makes a decision in September.
"I think before they (the county commission) can rescind or amend they have to, by law, have a public hearing," Schuettler said.