County board appointments coming next week, including planning, zoning

Whether applicants have taken a public position on a project that may go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment is now a topic of consideration as the County Commission prepares to make their appointments for the two vacancies on the board.

Commissioners are scheduled to make those appointments during the Jan. 9 meeting. They’ll also make appointments to the planning, airport, weed and compensation boards.

“It’s not often that we get this many applicants for these boards,” Commissioner Jim Larson said. It’s nice to have a cross-section of the community and many applicants to choose from to build a strong board, he said.

There are 18 applicants for the ZBOA and one of them is a current member seeking reappointment. Typically, it’s a challenge to fill the seats on the ZBOA and planning board, according to planning staff.  There are two vacancies for two-year terms on the ZBOA.

County planning, zoning board appointments pushed to Jan. 9

‘Usually we’re just looking for a warm body,” Larson said during the work session.

State law requires that county planning board members be “resident freeholders in the area over which the planning board has jurisdiction,” meaning they need to live outside the city limits.

There are 13 applicants to the planning board, two of which are seeking reappointment. There are three vacancies for two-year terms on the planning board and one vacancy to fill the remainder of a term through Dec. 31, 2018.

The law doesn’t have a residency requirement for the zoning board, but commissioners said during their work session that it has been a longstanding policy to appoint members that live in the county, outside the city limits.

Briggs said it’s odd to him that the law doesn’t have the same requirement for the ZBOA since it’s a decision-making body versus the planning board, which is only an advisory body to the commission.

Commissioner Jane Weber asked Carey Ann Haight, the county attorney, if they can ask staff to compile information for the commission on which of the applicants have submitted official comment to the planning office related to the slaughterhouse and review whether they’ve taken a public position on social media.

“To me, I’m uncomfortable with selecting a person if they’ve done that,” Weber said. “Should I be?”

Haight said she’d be concerned with any potential board member that has taken a public position on a matter that could come before that board. She said she’d be very concerned about the appearance of someone who’s not impartial about issues they’d be asked to consider as a government entity.

“I don’t recommend that be a risk we take,” Haight said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, about 70 letters have been submitted from about 50 households related to the slaughterhouse, county planning told The Electric.

The Madison Food Park developers are currently amending their special use permit application and have not yet resubmitted the application that would start the ZBOA process.

Commissioners directed staff to compile information on whether each applicant had made public comments, but not including the comment itself.

“I think this puts us in a very difficult position,” Briggs said.

He said that a group opposed to the slaughterhouse had actively recruited people to apply for the ZBOA and planning boards. Larson said he believed part of the increase in applications this year is driven by the slaughterhouse proposal and that he’s wary some of the applicants want to be on the board for that single issue and aren’t interested in serving beyond that.

Haight said that could be the case, but it could be the thing that gets people more involved in local government.

“I don’t feel comfortable with appointing someone who has taken a position,” Weber said.

One meeting attendee said that knowledge of zoning laws and regulations is important to serve on the zoning board, but he didn’t think city residents should be ruled out since they pay taxes too.

Briggs said that city residents don’t pay the taxes that fund county planning. That funding comes from a rural mill, he said. Historically, he said, the commission hasn’t appointed people to ZBOA who hasn’t first served on the planning board so that they’re acquainted with the process and laws.