Commissioners plan hearing on subdivision ordinance

Those that attended the Jefferson County Commissioners Meeting Feb. 8 gather after a discussion on the subdivision ordinance. Although there was increased attendance, just three people made comments on the ordinance – Jim Bernard (developer), Kip Salles (co-owner of Advanced Home Services) and Jed Denning (well driller).

The subdivision ordinance, which has been an ongoing project for more than a year and was adopted Dec. 21, once again became a topic of discussion at the Jefferson County Commissioners meeting Feb. 8.

Jim Bernard and Jille Park were placed on the agenda to discuss the ordinance, and a number of others attended as well and gave public comment.

Bernard first spoke to address statements made by Ty Belnap at the Feb. 1 meeting where Belnap said Bernard had been personally invited to the commissioners’ meeting by Scott Hancock to make comments on the ordinance before changes were made and the ordinance was approved.

“I’d like to formally enter into the record my response to the lies and mistruths that were stated,” Bernard said.

Bernard stated he was never invited by personal invitation but that he had asked to come and speak because he had not heard of the new ordinance before and was concerned about what it may contain.

According to Erik Stout with the Planning and Zoning office, the public hearing notice was sent to The Jefferson Star, TV and radio.

The notice was also listed online through the county website.

Commissioners discussed updates to the subdivision ordinance in Dec. of 2019 and told the Planning and Zoning department that they updates needed to be done, according to an article by The Jefferson Star from Dec. 25, 2019.

The updates at that time were in progress, with the Planning and Zoning office and administration along with commissioners discussing updates in several meetings as growth in Jefferson County continues.

Bernard stated in a letter to the commissioners he read Feb. 8 that although they met the legal standards for notification, he would like the commissioners to reverse their approval of the subdivision ordinance because there was no public input given and COVID was going on, as well as the Christmas season.

He continued, saying that most people didn’t know about the public hearing.

Commissioner Scott Hancock, who was accused of inviting Bernard to a previous meeting to speak against the ordinance, suggested holding another public hearing in order to hear from all sides on the matter.

According to both the previous and current Subdivision Ordinance, the county commissioners cannot “...hold a public hearing, give notice of a public hearing nor take action until recommendations have been received from the [Planning and Zoning] commission” (Section 6, 3-6-4: Amendments, #2014-05 — Subdivision Ordinance, and Sec. 110-34. Amendments, Subdivision Ordinance, 2020).

Hancock stated that although they would be taking comments at a public hearing set by the commissioners for changes people want to see to the subdivision ordinance, they weren’t in violation because the hearing was not on amendments.

In a legal notice published by the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, it states, “The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners will consider comments to the Jefferson County Subdivision Ordinance at a public hearing...”

“We’ll hold the public hearing and pass the comments along to the Planning and Zoning Committee and then they can decide to make any recommendations to us and then we would hold another public hearing if they make recommendations for changes,” Hancock said.

Hancock continued, saying that while the county fulfilled their legal obligations and conducted the process correctly, people believed they didn’t have a say in the ordinance. He also stated that the Planning and Zoning Committee needs people that are more diverse in their areas of expertise that can give more insight.

“There are good people on the committee but there’s no developers,” Hancock said. “When we started working on this, I suggested to Kevin [Hathaway] having a variety of people. I did call Erik [Stout] today and told him to make sure and invite the Planning and Zoning office and committee to the hearing.”

According to Hathaway, the appointments and recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Committee are made by the Jefferson County Commissioners.

When asked about the hearing, Stout said Hancock did not call him and instruct him to invite the committee to the public hearing.

“I called Scott to express my concerns and try to get on the same page to know what the purpose of this hearing was going to be,” Stout said. “He told me we would just have to wait and see if any changes are warranted in the ordinance. I was not instructed to make any invitations though.”

Prosecuting Attorney Mark Taylor suggested at the Monday meeting looking into implementing a short-term moratorium if the commissioners were going to make more changes to the ordinance that would impact any subdivisions approved in the time they were to be making adjustments.

Kip Salles from Advanced Home Services gave a comment and said that he just purchased a property and never heard anything talked about in regards to a new subdivision ordinance coming in. He would like to develop the property and move his business.

Jed Denning with Denning Well Drilling and Pump Systems asked why there were regulations on wells in the first place in the subdivision ordinance and why sewers weren’t addressed, which he said is where contaminants mainly come from.

Commissioner Roger Clark stated that the items in the Subdivision Ordinance were placed there in order to look at not just the present, but how things will play out in 20 years. With concerns of contamination in high water areas and wells possibly not being deep enough, they needed to look at the long range so the county isn’t liable for repairing any mishaps down the road.

Clark also stated that they should hold a hearing though to hear comments.

“Without taking steps and precautions now, we could face the same issues Island Park faced in the county being required to clean up any mishaps and then maintain that at a high cost,” Hathaway explained in an interview following the meeting. “The Planning and Zoning committee takes all this into consideration to be proactive now. They did a good job and spent a lot of time on this.”

Hathaway said the goal of Planning and Zoning is to consider the health and safety of all residents both now and in the future.

Bernard told commissioners Feb. 8 that he appreciated them being willing to open the subdivision ordinance back up and again said that people didn’t know because they don’t read the notices.

Following the comments, Hancock stated they would hold a hearing at 1 p.m. March 1. No motion was made to set a hearing.