Commissioners on the Mainland and Islands planning commissions have mixed feelings about an ordinance amendment proposed by the Glynn County Commission, which would strip them of certain authorities.
On Tuesday, the Glynn County Commissioners directed the county attorney to start drawing up an ordinance amendment to take from the planning commissions the authority to approve or deny site plans and preliminary subdivision plats.
Currently, the MPC and IPC have the final say on site plan and preliminary plat applications.
Five of seven county commissioners said Tuesday they were in favor of allowing the county’s planning and zoning division to review and approve preliminary plats without planning commission approval.
Commissioners also asked that an appeal process is included to allow applicants to appeal a site plan denial to the county commission.
Planning commissioners have their own opinions.
If the amendment is adopted, the county’s ordinances wouldn’t be very different from those in the rest of Georgia’s counties, said Islands Planning Commission chairman Patrick Duncan.
“(The proposed amendments are) not different from most of the state, and an appeals process is hard to argue with,” Duncan said.
He added that the county commission has been very sensitive to the concerns of island residents in regards to development on the island by setting up the IPC in the first place.
IPC members Carla Cate and Stan Humphries were very much against the proposed amendment, however.
“I could try to present arguments, but I don’t think (the county commission is) interested in arguments. I think they’ve got their minds made up,” Humphries said. “The IPC was created to give the people the chance to have a voice in development of the island, and now it’s being taken away from them.”
The IPC can’t rely on county staff to always get it right, which is why the amendment would be a bad thing for the county, Cate said.
“It totally strips the IPC of their authority. While we’re not elected officials, we’re appointed, the staff aren’t elected either,” Cate said. “We have proven and shown that applications we’ve gotten from staff are either inaccurate or incomplete. We’re trying to follow our ordinances that tell us what we have to have to approve an application.”
Cate also noted Glynn County Superior Court and Georgia Court of Appeals judges have sided with the county in multiple lawsuits in response to IPC judgments.
“If they take away the IPC’s authority, then they’re taking away the citizens’ voice,” Cate said.
On the other hand, IPC member Joel Willis agreed with the move because he said he has faith the planning and zoning department.
“I agree with the commission’s decision,” Willis said. “The community development department is very capable of evaluating preliminary plats, much more so than non-professionals, and I am one of the non-professionals.”
The Mainland Planning Commissioners willing to comment on the proposed amendment agreed with the county commission’s decision.
“I have attended several conferences that are put on by (the Georgia Association of Zoning Administrators). The ones I’ve attended, I’ve always asked the question about site plans. ‘How do you handle site plans?’” Mainland Planning Commission member Tim Murphy said. “I have always been told the vast majority of the 159 counties in Georgia, the vast majority are approved as an administrative item by staff.”
Allowing county staff to handle preliminary plats internally is fine by him, Murphy said, but he does like to have a chance to review site plans.
“I like the (site plan) appeal process better because it does allow me to give some input on it. But, truly, it’s administrative, and I don’t need to give input absolutely. I’d love to do it, but if that’s the way we’re going to go, then that sounds great,” Murphy said.
Gary Nevill, MPC chairman, said not many counties in Georgia require planning commissions to review preliminary plats or site plans. Glynn County wouldn’t be going far off the beaten path if it did allow county staff to review and approve both.
MPC member Gene Lee also noted that few counties require planning commission approval for either site plans or plats.
“I certainly support the appeal process. Most of us on the mainland, we support the fact that if the plan meets the ordinance, then we support the development,” Lee said.
He also said allowing county staff to have final say in plats was a good idea.
MPC member Larissa Harris said she believed site plans or preliminary plats should both be approved by county staff.
“I don’t really have an opinion on the process because I don’t agree that we should be voting on them in the first place,” Harris said.
MPC member Mary Hunt and IPC members Odessa Rooks and Desiree Watson declined to state opinions because they were not present for the county commission’s discussion. MPC member John Williams and IPC member Ed Meadows both said they hadn’t had a chance to look into the issue.