Who should have the authority to approve preliminary plats and site plans in Glynn County?

That was a primary question on the minds of the close to 150 St. Simons Island residents who attended a town hall on local issues Wednesday night. Most voiced their opposition to a recent proposal by Glynn County Commissioners take that authority away from the county’s planning commissions.

The majority Glynn County Commissioners supported taking the authority to unilaterally approve or deny site plans and preliminary plats away from the Islands and Mainland planning commissions at a meeting in May.

Commissioners directed Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford to draw up ordinance amendments to give county planning and zoning division staff the authority to approve preliminary plats and create a process by which applicants can appeal site plan denials to the commission.

Peter Murphy, the commissioner for St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands, was one of two commissioners opposed to the move. He characterized it as “debilitation” of the planning commissions on Wednesday.

Island resident Ed Looms asked who would have the power to approve site plans and preliminary plats if not the planning commissions.

County Commission Chairman Bill Brunson responded, saying planning and zoning staff would be responsible for approving preliminary plats. He said multiple applications the IPC has denied in the last few years ended up in Superior Court, and the commission didn’t want the court to get involved with planning and zoning matters.

Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley has upheld two decisions made by the IPC. One is still in the court.

“Litigation shouldn’t be the process,” Brunson said.

He also said Glynn is one of very few of Georgia’s 159 counties that leave site plan or preliminary plat approval up to planning commissions.

Another island resident, Donna Livingston Hoh, said the commission’s desire to take authority from the planning commissions was upsetting and asked Brunson if he would reconsider his support of the amendments.

Brunson said he would keep considering it until he raises his hand in an official vote.

County Manager Alan Ours said some of the IPC’s application denials and subsequent lawsuits might stem from misunderstandings as to what a complete application is.

“Oftentimes what we believe is a complete application the public or the planning commission doesn’t think is a complete application,” Ours said. “The planning staff does bring to the IPC complete applications even if that may not be accepted as complete.”

Community Development Director Pamela Thompson said some parts of applications the public or planning commissioners might feel are lacking are simply things staff will handle later in the approval process.

Murphy said that is why the planning commission is needed, as Kelley upheld the IPC’s decisions to deny some applications even though county staff said the applications were complete and compliant with the county’s ordinances.

“(The proposed amendments take) away the input of very interested and involved citizens who are going to feel the impact of these decisions where they live, as opposed to maybe six of the commissioners who don’t live here and the staff who don’t live here,” Murphy said.

Murphy gave IPC member Stan Humphries additional time to speak at the end of the town hall.

Addressing Brunson, Humphries said the IPC was the one making the zoning decisions that had gone to court, not the lawyers or judges. Kelley upheld decisions the IPC made on its own.

He added that county staff would be required to approve preliminary plats if they meet the minimum requirements, and couldn’t take the public’s interest into account like he said the IPC does.

Other topics discussed at the town hall include bike safety, road and infrastructure projects, the comprehensive plan and a new state law regarding cellphone use while driving.

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