By Dan Griffin
Houston County Planning & Zoning Commissioner
An editor’s note: This questionnaire first appeared in the Houston County Banner. Houston County Planning and Zoning Commissioner Dan Griffin requested it be reprinted. The public hearing on term limits took place Sept. 30 and will be presented as a news story in the Oct. 9 Caledonia Argus.
Q. In your opinion, are term limits for Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission members a good or a bad idea? Why?
A. The Planning and Zoning commission serves at the will of the Houston County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners have the full authority to remove, appoint or re-appoint anyone they choose to serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission. In my opinion, if the commissioners vote for mandatory term limits, they are voting to take away their own authority and discretion.
Term limit guidelines may be acceptable, just so commissioners retain their authority for discretion on individual re-appointments. Regarding term limits guidelines, I think 9 to 12 years is more reasonable than six years. It takes at least two years to become knowledgeable on the ordinances, the interaction between ordinances and the scope of all the issues that come before the commission. At the end of six years a commission member should be very knowledgeable and be an excellent resource for the county. The county commissioners should have the authority to re-appoint that member if they choose.
Q. When was the last time a citizen complaint regarding a zoning violation resulted in the violator being sanctioned? What was the complaint? What was the sanction?
A. The Planning and Zoning Commission does not have enforcement powers. Enforcement powers reside with the zoning administrator and the county commissioners.
Q. To apply for a Conditional Use Permit for mineral extraction, Houston County’s Zoning Ordinance requires the operator of a mine to submit an existing conditions map, operation plan and map, reclamation plan and map and “full and adequate description of all phases of the mining operation to include an estimate of duration.” Has the P&Z Commission received all of these documents for all mines in Houston County?
A. None of these documents are submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission. They are all submitted to the zoning administrator. Once the zoning administrator receives all the documentation necessary, and it is verified for accuracy and completeness, then a public hearing is scheduled. It is at that point that the Planning and Zoning Commission and the public get involved.
Regarding all the documents for all the mines in Houston County, there are over 100 rock quarries and sand mines in the county. The majority were in operation prior to zoning laws being enacted in the 1970s. The county commissioners at that time mandated that the existing quarries register with the county, but they did not have to apply for a conditional use permit unless they expanded beyond their stated boundaries. Approximately 20 quarries and sand mines have applied for conditional use permits since the zoning laws were enacted. To receive a conditional use permit, the applicant had to comply with all of the items listed in your question.
Q. The Houston County Ordinance on Mineral Extraction requires reclamation after three months of the termination of the operation. How many mines have been reclaimed since 1969 in Houston County?
A. The rock quarries and sand mines that have conditional use permits are required to start reclaiming their property within three months from the date of ending operations. I am aware of only two mines or quarries closing within the last several years. The properties were reclaimed to the satisfaction of the landowner and in accordance with the reclamation plan originally submitted.
Dan Griffin is a commissioner on the Houston County Planning and Zoning Commission.