Public Forum on Stoney Creek zoning left unsettled

By Lesley Jenkins
Star staff

Residents of Stoney Creek filled the cafeteria at Unaka Elementary School to voice their opinions about rescinding zoning in the 1st District. The community forum lasted for nearly two hours before residents decided to leave.
   In the August meeting of the Carter County Commission, Jack Buckles, commissioner for the 1st District, made a motion to return the zoning of Stoney Creek back to the Carter County Planning Commission for a study. The planning commission will make a recommendation to the county commission, which will then vote to rescind 1st District zoning or leave it as is.
   Some residents at the forum were unaware that Stoney Creek has been zoned since 1999. They were also unaware of how zoning benefits or hurts landowners. Many landowners believe zoning will control how they can use their land or limit what is allowed on property.
   Planning Director Chris Schuettler was present to clarify the definition of zoning and to address concerns. "Zoning gives a structured format of how your county is going to look, and it allows for organized proper growth in the county," he said.
   Schuettler added that zoning will not control litter on property. A litter control resolution that was passed in March 2003 already enforces that issue. Craig Malone, code enforcement officer, has been working directly under Schuettler, and the areas that he has inspected and issued violation notices have nothing to do with whether or not the property is in a zoned district.
   Buckles was confronted numerous times with questions about his personal opinion on zoning, and he tried to remain neutral until the end of the meeting. "My personal opinion - I have tried to remain neutral." But when Freddie Taylor, a retired marine, spoke up and said that elected officials couldn't do their jobs without zoning, Buckles replied, "But that is your opinion. My opinion is that I am elected to represent the majority of the people of Stoney Creek.
   "When I ran for this office, there were people who were not happy with their representation. That is the reason that I ran for this office. All I can do is represent the majority of the people on Stoney Creek."
   Buckles referred to a majority of residents in a recent survey that he conducted. In the survey, Buckles counted 667 signatures against zoning and 185 in favor. However, since the survey was not certified, the signatures cannot be attributed to registered voters who live in the 1st District. One man spoke up and said, "Until the survey is certified, there shouldn't be any reference to the numbers."
   Taylor spoke in favor of keeping Stoney Creek zoned and cited that zoning protects the landowners. "You don't know what is going to be next door to you tomorrow," he said.
   Bob Wilson shared his concern about the petition that was circulated in 1998, which had 779 opposing signatures and 130 in favor. "The main thing I am concerned about is that 75 percent of the people were opposed to it before, and it means the majority of the people aren't being represented," he said.
   Countering that argument was Dan Holder who said that county commissioners are elected to do what is best for the entire county.
   Many of the people who spoke against zoning said that the majority should decide. Vaughn Taylor said he was against zoning, but added, "the majority should rule, whether it is my way or someone else."
   When Buckles addressed concerned citizen, Richard Donnelly, and asked, "Would you feel comfortable with me telling you what to do with your property?", Donnelly replied, "They tell me now that I have to get a license for my car. They tell me I have to buckle up when I drive. They tell me I have to pay taxes. President Bush went to war and there wasn't a majority there. There are things that you have to look out for to grow. I have been told a lot of things that I don't like to do, but I do them, because it is best for the situation."
   The state legislature does not allow a referendum on the ballot to vote on zoning, according to Schuettler and Buckles. The forum was designed to gather opinions from the public.
   Lawrence Hodge and Doug Buckles, two other commissioners for the 1st District, were also present. Even though nothing definite could be decided at the meeting, many citizens left with a better definition of zoning and were allowed to address questions to Buckles and Schuettler.
   The Planning Commission will meet Tuesday at 3 p.m. to consider the issue and then decide what recommendation will be sent to the full commission at the September meeting.