Hampton citizens: "Zoning? We don't want it!"

Photo by Dave Boyd
Commissioner John Lewis addresses citizens attending the public forum on zoning held at Hampton Elementary School on Saturday.

Public forum reveals residents need more information

By Julie Fann
star staff
At a public forum organized for Hampton citizens to voice opinions and questions about zoning held Saturday afternoon, 6th District Carter County Commissioner, John Lewis, said he stands behind those he represents. And those he represents feel threatened.
Approximately 130 people gathered in the Hampton Elementary School cafeteria, where paper giraffes and chimpanzees decorate walls and where voices of children are typically heard. Lewis began the meeting, then a question-and-answer period was held for over an hour.
"We were supposed to have some county officials here, but they ain't here ... Without Chris Shuettler or anybody being here that can tell you anything about zoning, all I can tell you is what I know against zoning.
"Most people in my district ... they're gettin' tired of people infringin' on the rights. Now I'm sure all of you people is adults; you know what you wanna' do with your land; you pay taxes on it; you bought it, and I don't think anybody really has got the right to tell you what to do with it," Lewis said.
The first resident who spoke asked, "Have the people got a right to vote on this?"
Lewis and 2nd District Commissioner, Al Meehan, explained that state law does not allow a binding zoning referendum. However, a non-binding referendum can be held, provided the commission passes a resolution and asks Rep. Bill Jenkins and Sen. Jerome Cochran to pass a private act - a process that could take up to a year.
Holding a non-binding referendum would cost the county $22,000.
But most citizens who attended the public forum did not know how the issue came before the county commission in the first place or the details concerning the majority vote required to keep county-wide zoning from being implemented in Carter County.
On Monday at 10 a.m., the Carter County Commission will hold a public hearing and vote on county-wide zoning after the item landed on the agenda through several decisions made two months ago.
During an August meeting of the Carter County Planning Commission, 1st District Commissioner Jack Buckles requested zoning in Stoney Creek be terminated because, he said, residents there do not want it. After planning commission members voted 10-1 to keep Stoney Creek zoned, the next agenda item was a suggestion to zone the entire county.
Adding county-wide zoning to the agenda at the planning commission level doesn't require a motion, and Planning Commission Chairman Bob Hughes and Director Chris Shuettler prepare the agenda for each meeting. After some confusion over how the item was added to the agenda, planning members voted 10-1, with Commissioner John D. Snyder voting no, to add county-wide land use planning to the Oct. 20 meeting of the full county commission.
"Any time you consider zoning, and you look at partial, then you look at the full. If you look at the part then you look at the whole," said County Mayor Dale Fair at the August planning commission meeting. "There's a lot of feeling that county-wide (zoning) would be more acceptable than partial."
Al Meehan, who represents Roan Mountain on the county commission, explained to Hampton residents at Saturday's public forum that a consideration of county-wide zoning by the county commission was not due to a request made by a member of the public.
"... I think it was forced on the full commission, when I have here a copy of the agenda from the planning commission, and one of the agenda items was 'to request by the Carter County Commission to adopt county-wide land use planning'". There was no such request (made), but that's how it was presented to the planning commission, and that's why it is now coming to the full commission," Meehan said.
Lewis said, "... The planning commission took the motion this guy made and twisted it upside down. Now I went down there on that day to the planning meetin' and I got a good dose of politics. They've turned it upside down. They said it said somethin' that it didn't say. So now the planning commission voted to put in front of the whole commission to zone all of Carter County. Only half of it's zoned now."
Jack Buckles, 4th District commissioner, also told residents that mis-communication led to county-wide zoning being added to the county commission agenda.
"Eighty percent of our people want it out; didn't want it in the first place, so we brought it up to get it out; I brought it up and sent it back to the planning commission; they twisted the motion around, and they threw the county-wide zoning in and that was just a way for them to get it in the door," he said.
After much discussion between residents and the county commissioners who attended the meeting ( Joe Woods, John D. Snyder, Terry Montgomery, John Lewis, Al Meehan, and Jack Buckles) Meehan told the audience that he will request that a decision on zoning be postponed because the county is not ready for it and because the public and commissioners need more time to educate themselves.
Meehan said he would also support holding a non-binding referendum such as one held in Johnson County more than a decade ago.
For county-wide zoning to be passed in Carter County, 13 out of 24 county commissioners must vote to adopt it.
They're not going to have the full support of the people to try to administer it, even if it slipped through by 13 votes, and I don't think that's a good way to run a government when you've got so much grassroots discontent," Meehan said.