Johnson County Missouri
Planning & Zoning
Planning & Zoning - the Debate
by Bill Wayne, 431 SE County Road Y, Warrensburg, MO 64093
I'm not here to talk about whether planning & zoning, in the abstract, is good or bad. Even we who united to oppose this ballot issue differ in philosophy - many who support the concept of P&Z oppose this plan & ordinance. Its advocates say: "any P&Z, no matter how flawed, is better than none - vote it in & we'll clean it up later." - even to the extent of pressing the County Commission to place the terribly flawed early plan on the ballot in April, despite the lack of required legal notice for the hearing. We say: "let's not go into this with a county plan that doesn't plan and a zoning ordinance that is riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, unintended consequences and nit-picking detailed regulations that aren't needed in this county." So, I'm not here to say that all zoning is bad, but that THIS zoning is bad.
One major problem is that there has been no open forum to ask questions and raise issues and correct oversights. The plan revisions were not available to the public from February until July, when the so-called "Ballot Version" was printed. The Public Hearing was not well publicized - this radio station was never notified - and the ground rules militated against good feedback. The recent "Factual Answers" series in the newspaper is one of the most blatant examples of one-sided journalism I've ever seen, with the Commission's opinion purveyed as "Factual" even when they're incomplete or just plain mistaken, as shown by the waffling on the "horses on 5 acres" issue.
1. Uncertainty over many provisions & possible conflicts with state law.
a. Uses allowed/not-allowed w/o CUP:
This area is the most confusing because the zoning ordinance was written with all the general provisions for existing uses listed under the AG zoning area instead of a separate sub-section. So, one has to make an assumption on whether or not these provisions apply to all the remaining zoning classes. Now, let's look at some specifics:
As finally admitted in the "Factual Answers" column Tuesday, horses, while not banned, are to be regulated. Here's how it works: The list of Standard Industrial Classification codes in the Appendix to the zoning ordinance has three categories: "allowed by right" in a district (black dot), not allowed in a district (blank), or allowed under certain conditions (CUP or SUP). Livestock operations are listed as "by right' in AG zoning, and CUP in Rural Residential (that's 3-20 acres), R-1 single family (under 3 acres) or R-2 (duplex or 2-unit). What that says, in writing, whatever the intent of the framers, is that anyone desiring to have animals on less than AG zoning requires a CUP. Is it silly? yes! Would correcting it require a modification with public hearings, etc.? Yes.
Other examples include: P14, para 2.C.(1) says that expansion of existing uses not expressly permitted under AG zoning by over 50% require a SUP, which is the most detailed and restrictive form of zoning change.
Appendix, page 33, says that accounting & bookkeeping is permitted by CUP only in AG, RR & R1, while p44, para 9.B.(2) allows this as a home occupation in all areas if clients don't visit on the premises.
Page 44, para 9.B.(6) requires a SUP if more than 6 non-resident children have day-care, while Appendix page 32 allows by right in AG, RR & R1.
b. This brings up the point that the procedure for changing the zoning ordinance or zoning districts is confusing: At the last P&Z Commission meeting, it appeared that most members didn't fully understand the requirements for changing zoning or changing the ordinance; furthermore, even the procedure for a CUP is confusing:
The Addendum to the Ballot Version says in many places that CUPs are permitted on a finding by the P&Z Administrator and/or approval by and with the authorization of the P&Z Commission and the County Commission that conditions are met. I have no idea what this means - will this be delegated? If so, what will & won't be? There just aren't enough guidelines to have any idea how this is going to work.
The problems with the procedures for formal changes are threefold
1. The elected P&Z Commissioners would be merely a recommending body. Two members of the County Commission, if they have the political guts, can approve a zoning change or a change to the plan/ordinance, even if the townships were united in opposition.
2. Zoning changes require a great deal of expense and delays on the part of the person requesting one: public hearings can be put off as much as 60 days, the applicant must notify everyone within 1000 feet of the affected property by certified mail return receipt, and the volume of supporting data required is daunting.
3. There is no coherent plan for future growth within the county, so there are no coherent criteria for approving or disapproving a change. Where criteria don't exist, the process can be subverted too easily.
c. The need for permits is unclear: State law MRS 64-650 or 64-865 says that the county commission will appoint an officer or official to enforce zoning provisions. Then, "no building or other structure shall be erected, constructed, reconstructed, enlarged or altered, or repaired in such a manner as to prolong the life of the building ... without a permit issued by such officer or official."
Meanwhile, the ballot version doesn't require permits and zoning adherents say permits won't be required. The ballot version (P 11, para 7.A.) also says that in case of conflicts with other laws and private restrictions, the most restrictive requirement applies. I'm inclined to believe that, whatever the ballot version says, we would soon be faced with the commissioners saying: "oops, this plan doesn't comply with state law. I guess we'll have to require permits after all. Gee, sorry about that!" They'll claim they didn't realize there was a problem despite the fact that it was pointed out to them in letters to the editor 2 weeks and more prior to the election.
2. Administration issues
a. Cost/Source of Funds for administration: This area has NEVER been addressed by zoning proponents, the P&Z Commission or the County Commission. An administrator would have to be hired: $30,000 including benefits is conservative. Secretarial help: $14,000 at minimum wage if full time. Mileage for administrator: $3000 very conservatively. Mileage for Commission: $1200:. Supplies, forms, etc.: $3000 for minimum of $50,000 a year and rising. This doesn't include office space, computers & programming, legal counsel, etc. Where will the money come from? Regular property taxes? Or will there be a set of fees established when they comply with state law on permits, to make the program self supporting?
b. Reporting & inspecting suspected violations. Would the administrator have the authority to enter private property without obtaining advance permission or a warrant based on probable cause? I'm told the assessor has that power now. Do we really want to give someone the power to enter property and tell us that we're doing something wrong - who can go to court and get an order to make us tear something down or close a business? Especially in view of the types of IRS behavior we've recently seen exposed? And, if a neighbor doesn't like you & keeps turning you in for zoning violations, will he be able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity or will the accused have the right to face the true accuser instead of a bureaucrat acting in his behalf.
c. Penalties: State law gives them the right to order you to cease and desist from your business or order you to tear down or move a non-compliant building; and to fine or jail you if you don't.
3. Alternatives to zoning for specific problems:
Mega-Farms: Henry County passed a county-wide health ordinance on animal waste disposal in addition to the state laws affecting them. I don't know if that could have been done here, but I've seen nothing to indicate that it's been investigated.
Residential Sewage: An ordinance could have been passed last year, but was shelved in favor of betting on zoning.
Adult Entertainment: State laws were changed to allow this approach to zoning. What would have been wrong with trying to get specific legislation allowing counties to regulate adult entertainment? This "change the state law to allow counties more power to regulate without zoning" approach could be used for solving other problems we currently don't have authority to address.
4. Lack of comprehensive plan for future: A comprehensive county PLAN was not prepared. One of the key underpinnings for planning is to give purchasers of land some reasonable assurance of the type of development that is suitable for neighboring land. State law requires a comprehensive plan, the so-called plan repeats this justification, and we were told time and again that the plan should envision what the county should look like in 5-10-15 years. In reality, the comprehensive plan is "how it's used now." This means that every change is decided by who can do the best job convincing the County & P&Z commissions and that the reasonable assurance isn't there!
As one of the people who have been called "self-serving" for opposing additional government controls, I want to point out that zoning making locatiing in Johnson County unattractive for possible competitors would be in my economic interest.
As one of the people to whom you have attributed "ignorance, inexperience and incompetence" and have compared to vandals in your letter published on October 23rd, I don't understand why you and your committee won't address the specific issues of this plan rather than attack the motives and abilities of those who have found problems, contradictions and flaws in the plan.
As to scare tactics, I guess one's viewpoint depends on what one finds scarier. Historically, the growth of government is a process of people trading freedom for security. Is the small amount of security to be gained worth the freedom to be given up - given up to people who use personal attacks and tainted journalism to promote their position.
Once this is defeated, we hope that the county will come together to solve the identified problems. This will be an opportunity for the County Commission to truly show leadership and encourage the type of citizen involvement as promoted in Karen Shannon's letter in last night's paper.
A post-script: A distant cousin of mine once said "I don't give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell."
Please Vote NO on P&Z this November 4th!
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