The county commission voted to reject the proposed Greenbrier County Comprehensive Plan – two to one, with commissioners Karen Lobban and Mike McClung opposing, at a public hearing held at the courthouse on Aug. 26. The county is currently not in compliance with a state deadline to have a comp plan by the end of June of this year.
The commission did, however, approve the Planning Commission’s recommendation to dedicate the Comprehensive Plan in honor of the diligence and effort contributed by commission members Vern Hayslette and Jim Bryant.
Commission President Lobban said, “It’s not proper to rush.” She said the commissioners need to give/ a final review of the plan. She said time is also needed to consider the remarks given by numerous civic-minded citizens whose views, both pro and con, were voiced during the Tuesday evening meeting.
The commissioners scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 3 p.m. to discuss and review the Comprehensive Plan, which was approved by the Planning Commission last month, to be followed by a working session with the Planning Commission at 5 p.m. Both meetings will be open to the public.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Woody Hanna said he had a differing view from that of his fellow commissioners of the process and deliberations taken as the proposed comp plan was being developed by the 14-member Planning Commission, since he had attended those many meetings over the course of the past year and a half.
“The key word,” Hanna said, “is Plan. It’s a guide for the commissioners to reference.” Of course, he added, it’s important to select the right commissioners and it’s important to vote and ask of aspirants to the commission what their views are with regard to the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
The meeting was well attended and the commission heard comments from the audience which numbered around thirty people. The following is a listing of some of the remarks given.
Leslee McCarty said she was irked that the approval for the comp plan has taken so long. “Get it done,” she urged.
Although a member of the Planning Commission, Elmer Collins said, “The planners could have simply updated the’96 plan.” He cited many examples of what he termed extreme environmentalist idealism which leads to “too much government overreach. If you can’t fund a plan, you shouldn’t pass it.” He
cited several pages in the 96-page plan and said he could go on and on. “It’s a shrewd way of saying we don’t have enough sense to look after ourselves.”
On page 19 of the plan is a sentence which Collins interpreted to mean the Planning Commission itself displayed “a weakness in confidence for the Plan.”
“The Planning Commission recommends that this Comprehensive Plan not be adopted as an ordinance in its entirety.”
“That may be the most important sentence in the whole plan,” said Commissioner Mike McClung. He reiterated Commissioner Hanna’s later remark that “this is a Plan, not an ordinance.”
Steve Malcomb brought forward an important point that many grant funding agencies for counties require that a comprehensive plan be in place. “All we want is a minimal plan to get grants, otherwise the county will have to raise taxes for [needed developments].”
John Burns was terse and to the point:”This plan doesn’t fit the county,” he said. “It’s against coal, the backbone for taxes, wages and jobs.” He also referenced page 70 of the plan as a “dangerous page” that could “drive a wedge” that may determine whether young people stay or leave the area seeking jobs.
Glenn Singer said, “No part of the plan is required or mandatory, but what is necessary is to have a plan. When people talk about ‘freedom,’ the way to do it is to stay involved, making sure concerns are heard. In that way freedom is served.”
Romney Collins made a resonating point for many. “It might be a plan now but it could be an ordinance later.”
Lloyd Burns, a self proclaimed farmer and a member of the Planning Commission, said, “Citizens won’t stand for a unified zoning code. It’s not right that community rights are equal to private individual rights.” He also took the point that it is insulting “to think we can’t take care of ourselves.” Burns was the only member of the commission who voted to reject the comp plan.
Hanno Kirk, another Planning Commission member, explained the 1996 plan did not include points now under the state’s legislative mandate. Sprawl, he said represents poorly planned uncontrolled growth without respect to surroundings, and explains why certain areas are zoned as industrial development and other are for conservancy farming. A balance is needed, he said, when planning ahead for both the community needs as well as for private property owners. Yearly reviews of the plan, he emphasized, are a safeguard for the community to change what doesn’t work. “I am just flummoxed,” he said, “that we developed a plan that provides a blueprint, just like the old plan does, of how we want to live in this county and this beautiful area …We’re simply setting up guidelines.”
Lanny Howe came as close as anyone did in describing the function and value of a comprehensive plan as he detailed what it’s like living in an area with restricted infrastructure development. “As a pastor,” he said, “I hear this all the time: ‘I wish the church was the way it used to be.’ Well, it can’t be – life is [always] changing. The plan developed in 1996 doesn’t suit today’s changes. The population hasn’t changed but the people who make up the population have changed. Some have come here and done what they wanted to the detriment of those already here because of [a lack ofJ zoning controls. Some of us don’t need controls, but some of us do. The [comprehensive] plan is not carved in stone. Only the Commandments are. If there are hitches, modify the plan!”