Columbia County's Planning and Zoning Commission hears all the hot-button and snooze-button issues regarding property use in the county, and gives its advice to the commissioners for a final decision.
It's undoubtedly a tough job. But while P&Z members decide whether to grant a zoning change here or a variance there, it's important to note that they don't have the final decision.
That's why two suggestions for changing the Planning and Zoning board ought to be rejected. Here's what they are, and why:
First, the county's newly elected Democratic Party chairman, Scott Nichols, wants to turn the Planning and Zoning Commission into an elected board.
The decisions of the Planning and Zoning Commission are designed to provide advice to the county commissioners who appoint them. And it is those commissioners who still have the final say.
Thus, planning board members answer to the commissioners who choose them, and commissioners are accountable to the voters who elect them. This structure insulates the planning members from popular whim, while keeping the final decision in the hands of elected officials. That's the way it should remain.
Equally worrisome is a proposal to strip away some of this insulation by allowing developers and builders to discuss pending issues with individual planning and zoning members.
Currently, such discussions are forbidden, and for good reason: Planning and zoning members are able to act as impartial arbitrators only if they take input from county staff, members of the public and business interests during open sessions where all cards are on the table. Allowing extracurricular discussions would encourage back-door deals that would destroy the board's integrity
Besides, the key point again is that no P&Z decision is final. Builders and developers remain free to twist the arms of elected county commissioners before any binding vote; as should be obvious in fast-growing Columbia County, they aren't suffering from a lack of leverage.
learly, no one will be happy all the time with decisions of Columbia County's Planning and Zoning Commission. For the most part, however, the appointed board members do a decent job of keeping the pendulum from swinging too much in favor of either developers or anti-growth interests.
By changing the Planning and Zoning Commission's structure, these two proposals would swing that pendulum unfairly. They should be rejected.
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