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LCPC recommends 'no recommendation on fence
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With a fired up mix of lawyers, developers and county constituents, the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission assumed the role of ringmaster in an attempt to suppress a circus-like atmosphere that ensued during its regular meeting Tuesday.
At the heart of the matter were issues pertaining to the legality of 10-foot fences recently built around Gary Barnes and Lee Johnson’s properties adjacent to the new Yellow Bluff Development.
Yellow Bluff developers Allen Brown and Ren Keel, and landowner Richard Henry, who were represented by their attorney Jeff Arnold, were seeking the recommendation of a variance (a deviation from the regulations) from the planning commission to keep the fences at their present height.
But Barnes, who was represented by attorney Bill Glass, wanted the planning commission to deny the variance because the fence is in violation of zoning regulation 6.2.2 that stipulates the fence could only be six feet in height.
Before deliberations between the two parties could get under way, LCPC zoning administrator Debra Attical said the circumstances for granting a variance were not applicable in this case, and her recommendation to the planning commission was to disapprove it.
Following Attical’s recommendation, Arnold addressed his clients’ justification for the fences, and through his presentation, implied the fences were erected because the developers wanted to conceal Johnson and Barnes’ properties from the rest of the Yellow Bluff development.
Arnold said Barnes struck a deal with his clients to redevelop his land and build town homes, but since Barnes did not go through with the redevelopment, his undesirable looking property was fenced off.
Arnold also said a fence was erected near Johnson’s home because of an open septic tank hole. But Johnson stood up and strongly denied the validity of Arnold's allegation.
After Arnold’s comments, Glass said, “The suggestion that Arnold makes ... that because his clients have come in and built expensive homes and fancy real estate that they should be permitted against the ordinance, and against the recommendations of the county to construct fences to fence (Barnes and Johnson) off from all of their neighbors is offensive and absurd.”
Glass also alleged Barnes and Johnson were told months ago that if they did not sell, then their properties would be fenced off.
Following the deliberation and public hearing on the issue of the variance, the recommendation for approval fell on the shoulders of the planning commission.
In a controversial move, commissioner Don Hartley made the motion to recommend the commission make no recommendation since both parties are involved in a lawsuit with each other).
As a result, the board unanimously agreed to say “no comment.”
“In order to keep us in our status in making good recommendations, normally a variance of this type would be denied ... it’s been our policy to pass on decisions to our elected officials with a ‘no comment’ because it would be grossly unfair to my friends on this side of the room and my friends on this side of the room to sway any type of jury or legal action one way or the other,” Hartley said.
By making a recommendation to not recommend anything and by disregarding the request of County Administrator Joey Brown to make a decision on the matter, the county commission will now have to vote on the variance during its Oct. 9 meeting.
“It’s not about friendships. It’s about doing what’s right. In spite of the staff recommendation, and with all due respect, Hartley decided not to comment, which I thought was totally inappropriate. There’s no legal battle between me and the county,” Barnes said. “I have not filed any lawsuit with the county, and everything they do is related to legal matters anyway.”
Since the Barnes’ refusal for Yellow Bluff developers to acquire their land, they have lost road access, and emergency and fire protection to their home, Glass said.
The problems with road access, and emergency and fire protection were previously corroborated by the county’s fire coordinator, James Ashdown. But since his findings were made public, he’s reportedly been barred from speaking on the matter.
All information Ashdown possessed pertaining to this issue has been turned over to the county administrator.

Note: See Barnes’ letter to the editor in Wednesday’s Courier.
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