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County planners creating zoning use table

by Clarke Davis

Separation of church and state, polluting chemicals used in fracking natural gas, and defining who lives in group homes were just a few of the topics discussed last week by the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The commission met July 19 to continue the process of modifying the county zoning regulations that are being prepared for public hearings.

Listening to staff, it appears those hearings might be at least a month later than originally wished for, but planners believe the process can be wrapped by September.

Chairman Matt Scherer III presided with Bret Frakes, Paul Johnson, Darrell Hammond, and Tim Bailey present. Roger Wood was absent and there remains one vacancy on the board.

The county commissioners placed a moritorium on conditional use permits last spring to afford the zoning board time to work through this process.

“We are establishing use tables to list what is allowed in the various zoned districts,” said Bret Frakes, a 15-year veteran of the board.

“It’s a way to simplify the process and make it easier for the staff and the public to know what is allowed and where,” he said.

Certified planner Duane Buscher assisted the board members at the meeting as they worked through the process. Zoning administrator Eloise Tichenor did not attend this meeting.

Discussion surrounded the types of usage within zoning districts, namely agriculture, residential, and public and civic. On the next agenda will be commercial (retail sales and service, offices), commercial (wholesale and other), and industrial.

Since churches fall within the public and civic area Hammond wanted to know if the regulations conflicted with the 1st Amendment. Buscher responded by saying there was no conflict as long as there was no descrimination among religious sects.

“They are still subject to building setbacks, parking restrictions, and other regulations,” Buscher said.

“What about a cowboy church?” Johnson questioned, one of which does exist at Williamstown that has a rodeo arena.

Lighting, noise, parking could all come into play and future requests could be denied if there were compelling reasons, Buscher said.

Johnson broached the topic of extracting oil and gas reserves and how the commission will handle those propositions. He was mostly concerned with the chemicals used to extract natural gas and the threat they pose to water supplies.

While others thought federal and state laws address most of those activities, Johnson believed it best to discuss and ask the questions now rather than later, after the damage is done.

Group homes in residential areas were a concern, because they were not defined. The board members talked about day care and elderly homes as opposed to judicated juvenile facilities where public safety is a concern. It was suggested that staff spell out what is and what isn’t allowed.

Home occupations and home schooling also came into the discussion on residential areas.

As the commission moves into the industrial areas, Hammond said he’d like more definition when it comes to quarries, landfills, recycling center, and salvage sites.

The board meets at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month and will resume discussion again Aug. 16. The meeting is held in the commissioners’ chambers in the courthouse.

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