Legislature will not allow binding zoning referendum

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
ljenkins@starhq.com
Editor's Note: This story is part of a series on county-wide zoning, which will be considered at the Carter County Commission meeting on Oct. 20 at 10 a.m.
Tennessee law does not have a statute that allows a county-wide referendum on zoning. However, there is no law prohibiting the county to hold a non-binding referendum, according to County Mayor Dale Fair.
A non-binding referendum would not only allow the citizens to vote on zoning, but also provide county commissioners with a clear view of what the citizens of Carter County want.
The downside to a non-binding referendum would be the cost incurred by the county, according to Fair. "I don't know how much it would cost to have one. It does cost money to have a referendum, and I don't want to spend a lot of money on something that isn't going to be binding," he said Wednesday.
Despite results from an unofficial referendum, some commissioners will vote against the majority, citing potential development and a belief that county-wide zoning is best for the county's future.
Planning Director Chris Schuettler said a non-binding zoning referendum was held in Johnson County more than a decade ago. The majority of voters wanted to pass a zoning ordinance, but the county commission went the other way and voted against it.
Results from the vote would not be official, and commissioners would still have the final vote on the issue. In order for county-wide zoning to pass Oct. 20, a simple majority, or 13 votes, is required.
"Historically, a non-binding referendum is just a waste of taxpayer's money," Schuettler said.
Another drawback of a non-binding referendum is that, in order for a referendum to be held, a private act must be passed first and could take up to a year. According to Carter County Administrator of Elections, Tracy Harris, a small non-binding referendum would cost approximately $22,000.
The Carter County Commission will hold a public hearing on county-wide zoning Monday. Zoning is item 13 on the agenda. Three sub-items under "Public Hearing - Zoning" will be:
* Removal of the 1st District
* Add Districts 2, 4 and 6 to county zoning
* Amend zoning ordinance
Fair expects a large audience at Monday's commission meeting. He said he will possibly ask those not interested in the public hearing portion of the 21-item agenda to exit and make room for those who wish to speak to enter the courtroom.
Fair said the hearing itself will not have a time limit, but he will grant every individual who wants to speak a certain time frame.
Monthly commission meetings are scheduled to begin at alternate times each month, either 7 p.m. or 10 a.m. Fair said he may need to schedule a lunch break if the meeting lasts longer than usual. An early morning meeting will provide more discussion time, he said.