Members of the county’s planning commission spent a portion of last week’s work session discussing the board’s policy on how to handle noisy outbursts by the crowds of residents that sometimes attempt to influence zoning decisions during public hearings.
In discussing the frequently vocal protests of such groups, planning director Tom Brown made a point that all of those who become involved in the debate over any pending zoning question would do well to remember.
“We just don’t want to give people the impression that’s what our decision is based on,” Brown said of those who try to sway county planners with numbers of people and volume of sound.
Anytime the county’s advisory planning board, or even its elected commissioners, deal with a hotly contested zoning request there is a good chance there will be an organized contingent on hand — frequently dressed in matching T-shirts — to express an opinion about the issue being debated.
And, sad to say, those crowds often are under the misguided impression that zoning decisions should be made based on the whims of area residents, rather than the dictates of applicable law and county land use guidelines.
While input from the public is an important part of the county’s planning process, decisions on rezoning requests have to be made in accordance with legal guidelines, not based on which side draws the loudest crowd to cheer on its behalf.
Planners can’t make decisions based on the number of like colored T-shirts they see in a crowd.
If the planning board is going to make a recommendation to deny a property owner the right to use a piece of land in a certain way, it has to have a valid reason for doing so.
Voting to approve or deny a particular zoning action based on perceived public opinion and nothing else is a sure way to see the county end up defending its actions in court challenges it cannot win.
Crowds that are disruptive at any public hearing make it difficult for those accountable for the legal application of zoning laws to do their jobs in a responsible manner. Those who hope to sway a decision in any land use issue would do well to remember that a calm presentation of facts applicable to the county’s land use policies will have more impact than the volume of a congregation of voices.