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LCPC under fire
Efficiency questioned
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Members of the Liberty County Planning Commission and its appointment board speak with county commissioners and the public Monday night about growing concerns pertaining to the LCPC. - photo by Photo by John Deike
In a rare turn of events this week, three governmental boards convened in front of the public to address the comments and concerns regarding the quality and efficiency of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission.
During July's county commission meeting, many of the commissioners voiced their doubts about the consolidated planning staff's qualifications, level of customer service and operational procedures.
Following the commissioners' complaints (which mirrored the gripes of area residents and developers), the LCPC appointment board, the county commissioners and the LCPC met on Monday to gain some clarification on these issues in order to potentially resolve them.
The two primary themes of the meeting were explaining the LCPC’s role, and determining which of the complaints (stemming from area residents, developers and government officials) were genuine, and which were simply perceptions.
Jim Thomas, LCPC chairman, said the planning commission advises the unincorporated part of the county and the seven municipalities on whether to approve planning and zoning proposals based on the collective regulations, ordinances and subdivision ordinances of Liberty County.
It is the job of the consolidated planning staff to analyze the planning and zoning regulations and ordinances, and to present them to the planning commission in an organized fashion, Thomas said.
“We don’t make policies. We make judgments from those policies. We interpret those regulations (and ordinances) and give our recommendations to the cities or county...and we send them a viable plan that they can approve,” Thomas said.
In response to the complaints of delays within the consolidated planning staff, LCPC Director Sonny Timmerman said, they need to gain three approvals before they can hand the planning and zoning proposal over to the planning commission for approval or disapproval.
“The (Natural Resources Conservation Service) approves the soil and erosion, the Environmental Protection Division approves the water and wastewater and the (consolidated planning staff) approves the drainage,”  Timmerman said.
Before the consolidation, Timmerman said the process used to take a matter of days for residents or developers to gain planning and zoning approvals, but since the planning commission and its staff strictly abide by the ordinances, it now takes weeks or even months to gain the necessary approval.
Timmerman noted the criticisms from developers about the LCPC’s delays are more “perceptions” than “realities.”
“Developers aren’t used to this lengthy approval process because this isn’t the way we used to do it,” Midway Mayor Don Emmons said. “Following these planning and zoning ordinances are key, and the LCPC are our police persons to enforce them.”
Besides Emmons, other government officials offered more biting remarks during the meeting.
“I am very displeased with the LCPC,” county commissioner Connie Thrift said. “I think that we’ve created something here that we can work with, and if we cannot, then we may have to look for different alternatives. My main concern is that we change the perception of that office to make things user friendly ... I get complaints from my constituents on a weekly basis.”
“I don’t have aproblem with the planning commission. I question the qualifications and staffing of the planning staff because they give differing interpretations on regulations and ordinances,” county commissioner Marion Stevens said.
Timmerman acknowledged dealing with the planning and zoning issues should be easier, and from now on, he will have one person answer all the questions in relation to residents’ questions about ordinances.
Timmerman has drafted a proposed ordinance that would make it easier and less time-consuming for residents and developers to gain planning and zoning approvals.
County resident Meredith Devendorff agreed with loosening the rigidity that makes these approval processes so time-consuming.
But if these regulations are loosened somewhat, then government officials still need to be mindful of protecting the  environment by creating a sensible balance between rural and real world development, Devendorff said.
John McIver, the county commission chairman, said the comments, concerns and questions mentioned during the meeting will be taken into account, and that each government body will continue to work together to resolve any issues or problems that lie within the LCPC.
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