New members immediately vote on proposed development
The current county commissioner majority appointed three new planning board members Tuesday, Jan. 4, who immediately heard testimony and voted on a proposed development.
The move prompted the two other county commissioners to question the appointments and why the newly appointed planning board members couldn’t postpone the vote.
“We’re sending three people to rule on a project, a very controversial project, with no training,” Commissioner Tracey Kuehler said. “I think we’re going backwards, to the way things used to be, rather than forwards.”
Everette Medlin, Jim Thornton and Phillip Hill were appointed by a 3-2 vote, with Kuehler and fellow Commissioner Kim Rogers dissenting. Kuehler said she could support the appointees but not the process by which they were installed.
They fill three of the six vacant spots on the county’s planning board, which after months of infighting and resignations, was left with just one member, Jeff Gerber. Four members – Mark Dibiasio, Kathy Broom, Scott Heslink and Patty Freeman – resigned in September, and Jim King and John Darcy turned in their resignations before Christmas.
Fourteen people had submitted applications to join the planning board by Tuesday night. The commission majority chose to fill only three positions, leaving three more open.
“This is (a case) where the ends justifies the means,” Rogers said. “If you’re going to reconstitute the board, appoint them all.”
County commission Chairman Jerry Simpson said the commission just wanted to give the planning board enough members to hold a meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
“The interest was just to create a situation where the meeting could be held,” Simpson said, adding he has no timeline for filling the additional three positions.
After voting on the three appointees, Simpson asked for any more nominations to the board. No one offered any.
“There was no point in me putting up people that would get voted down” by the current majority, Rogers said. She expects to suggest some candidates for the remaining three positions at the next county commissioners’ meeting.
Rogers and Kuehler questioned why Medlin, Thornton and Hill were sworn in and voted on a new development the same night they were appointed. They also wondered how they knew to show up for the meeting, since the appointment hadn’t taken place yet.
The county’s normal procedure calls for new board members to take a period of training, usually 30 days, before voting on any proposed developments.
But Medlin served as the planning board’s vice chairman from 2006 to 2008, and Thornton, an architect, had served as an alternate on the current board since 2009. Kuehler argued, however, that Thornton missed several meetings as an alternate. County records show Thornton missed five of the regular monthly meetings since 2009.
Nothing in the county’s land-use ordinance requires the training before a vote. The policy states only: “The board of commissioners shall appoint new (planning board) members as follows: three regular members for a term of three years, two regular members and one alternate for a term of two years and two regular members and one alternate for a term of one year.”
Medlin and Thornton both satisfy the two regular spots for a two-year term, with their appointments ending April 20, 2013. Hill’s term ends April 20, 2012.
In the planning board meeting immediately following the appointments, planning board members unanimously approved Medlin as chairman and Thornton as vice chairman. The board then proceeded by a unanimous 5-0 vote to approve the proposed Kohl’s shopping center, next to the existing CVS pharmacy at Tom Short and Rea roads. The homeowners associations of the nearby Hunter Oaks and Summerset subdivisions have voiced their support of the shopping center.
When Medlin asked if anyone in the audience Tuesday if they wanted to speak in opposition to the project, no one responded.
Why appoint now?
County commissioners called a special 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday to make the three planning board appointments. Without the appointments at the special meeting, the planning board could not have voted on the proposed Kohl’s shopping center until February, something the commission majority hoped to avoid.
“We were in danger of losing a commercial property,” Commissioner Todd Johnson said. “Kohl’s only opens stores two times during the year, and if this hadn’t gone before the planning board tonight, they would have missed a chance.”
According to information from Kohl’s corporate website, the department store chain only opens new operations in March and October.
County staff told planning board members before their December meeting that Kohl’s would come before them for a vote in January. Until then, nothing in the minutes of prior meetings mentions ongoing talks about the Kohl’s project, which will cover 87,200 square feet.
“This is the type of project we need to offset the residential (tax base),” commissioner Jonathan Thomas said. “I don’t think it’s right to penalize a good corporate citizen” by making them wait.