Planning Board meeting denied
By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 12, 2009 1:46 PM
Wayne County Planning Director Connie Price twice Tuesday night declined to identify the official who instructed him not to schedule community meetings to discuss zoning, as had been ordered by the county Planning Board.
Board members did not press Price on the issue, but rather devoted their time to questions about the importance of the meetings versus the costs. Members argued that the cost was outweighed by the importance of involving the public.
At one point, Chairman Chris Cox said he would pay for the meetings and board member Steve Keen, who is also a county commissioner, said county budget contingency funds could be used.
New board member David Quick agreed to the important role public meetings play, but questioned how effective they are.
Quick had harsh words for the public, noting that despite repeated open and well-advertised meetings the public remains largely ignorant about what is going on in area development.
Keen reminded board members that they had unanimously agreed to hold a series of public meetings starting with one on the U.S. 70 Bypass interchange at Wayne Memorial Drive. He said the public needs to be aware of what is being planned.
"If we have the meetings we have approved to have, what can we show them?" he said. "How can we be familiar with what has been shown to the MPO so we can show it at our meetings so people will understand what is going on as far as our hearings?"
"That is what I have been trying to understand," Cox said. "There is no cooperation."
Cox then asked Price if the meeting dates had been set.
"I was told not to (set them)," Price said.
Keen wanted to know who gave the orders.
"I was told not to set it," Price repeated.
Quick agreed the meetings are needed, but added that the county has to pay for them.
"Is there anything in the bylaws about coming up with the money?" Cox said.
Price said the Planning Department does have some money for advertising.
Quick said he was just pointing out the costs of advertising and getting representatives of Kimley-Horn to the meeting could cost as much as $8,000.
Cox said he was aware of the costs but did not think it would be so expensive. He asked Price how much it had cost to set up a previous zoning meeting at a local school. About $300 to $400, Price responded.
"Was cost involved when you were told not to do it?' Cox said.
Price said it was not.
"My point is, that no matter what the costs are associated with it, who pays for it?" Quick responded
"I'll pay for it, I'll pay for it," Cox said. "If it costs $500 I will pay for it. If that is what it takes to have a community meeting."
Keen noted that at a recent commissioners' meeting, a man had appeared before commissioners with a petition seeking to keep Tommy's Road open. The road is being dead-ended on either side of the new bypass. The issue had come before the MPO several years ago, he said.
The interchange at Wayne Memorial Drive going to entail a lot of changes on the highways and the public needs to know about them, Keen said.
"So people like those on Tommy's Road won't come back and say, 'Why weren't we informed all along?' My job is to let people know what is going on. ... If it is a money situation, we can find the money....
"I don't want to take that lightly. We made a motion, it was seconded and unanimously decided. Now the county planner is saying he was told not to have the meeting. I am confused. As a planning board we had hours of discussion with our hearts into planning and now all of sudden the county planner is saying we can't have the meeting. I am confused, aren't you?"
"The man with the purse strings says, 'no,'" Quick responded.
"I don't know who has the purse strings," Keen said.
"You are a county commissioner," Quick replied.
"If you read the paper you are aware I am a commissioner," Keen said. "I serve the people, not the paper. My concern is people in county need to know what is going on in the county. Talk about these issues. Get the people involved."
Cox pressed his point that planning must include finding out what the people want.
"You can't, in my mind, just throw open the doors at a community meeting and expect wisdom to come flowing through the doors," Quick said. "Somebody has got to present something, put something on the table to start a discussion."
That, he said, was what he had hoped the Kimley-Horn plan would have done.
Keen said that Kimley-Horn is being paid $125,000 for its local work. Also, it is a world-renowned company and is very good at what it does. As such anything its expertise suggests, such as the proposed development, Keen said he takes "very seriously."
Keen said it was exciting for him for see such potential growth that the county needs and that is why he wants to hold public meeting, especially for the highway interchanges.
"What about property owners, do they know what is being done? Are they familiar with what is being done?" he said. "People need to know about it. If it costs $1,000 or $2,000, the commissioners will find the money."
Quick noted that even though public meetings are planned, that not everyone who should attend will.
"My question is how much are you going to spoon-feed them. Andy (Anderson) how long have you talked about Tommy's Road, seven years? It was discussed by the MPO all at open meetings. What gets me is that it should not have been a surprise for anybody living on Tommy's Road, or that ever drove down Tommy's Road that it was going to be closed. They have been arguing that point for a good seven years."
Commissioner Anderson, who was in the audience, nodded in agreement.
"Yet you had a 1,000 people sign the petition," Cox said.
Quick noted the same situation occurred for the U.S. 117 project that Anderson worked on for years.
"I don't care how ignorant they are, there is nobody so blind that just won't see or somebody so deaf that they won't listen," Quick said. "The information is there. You cannot spoon-feed everybody in the county on every issue and expect them to remember it two days from now. This has been a frustration as long as I... How long have we been fighting, Andy? As long as you fought on (four-laning U.S.) 117?"
"I am all for public involvement," Quick said. "My question is how do we achieve it and do it effectively? As far as public meeting I made the motion last time and am still in favor of it."
The meeting came back full circle to Price's earlier comments.
"My question, we made this motion, it passed, on what grounds was it denied?" Cox said.
County attorney Borden Parker said he did not know.
"I want to know why. Who decided?" Cox repeated.
Price said he could say who told him, but that he wouldn't.
"Why not?" Cox said.
"Because I had rather not," Price responded.