Letter to the Editor

Dissecting the storage yard issue

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To The Editor:

At the Putnam County Commissioners Monday morning meeting on Oct. 6, a major revision of the Putnam County Zoning Ordinance was approved. The revision will allow contractors to have storage yards for equipment in all zones, including the residential and agricultural zones.

To fully understand what occurred some background information of the proceedings leading to the vote is necessary. A local trucking firm was operating a sand and gravel delivery service out of the owners residence. Neighbors complained and it was determined that the operation was in violation of the ordinance.

There is nothing unusual in not allowing an Industrial/Commercial use in a residential zone. Unfortunately, unusual things then indeed do begin to happen. The county attorney drafts a revision to the zoning ordinance that would allow these types of Industrial/Commercial storage yards for equipment not only in Industrial and Commercial Zones but in all zones as a special exception use.

The revision was given a positive recommendation by the Planning Commission and thereafter, the matter first was heard by the Commissioners at the scheduled public hearing. At that time the hearing was adjourned for the county attorney to research issues requested by the Commissioners. At the hearing several neighboring home owners objected to the revision on various grounds: noise, commercial traffic increase, impact on road conditions and the safety of other drivers and pedestrians on what is a rural road. The matter was next heard by the Commissioners at their next meeting. Again several members of the public objected and the Commissioners then vote and deny the revision 3-0.

Reasonable to believe that the matter is resolved. Not so.

At the next Commissioners meeting the county attorney with no explanation as to why the inquiry is made asks the Commissioners if the revision is dead or if it is to be sent back to the Planning Commission for further study. One might ask: What is there about a 3-0 vote for denial that requires further study? The Planning Commission then dutifully makes revisions which arguably makes the proposal even more offensive and it next appears before the Commissioners on Oct 6. At that meeting without discussion and without allowing public comment the revision is then approved 3-0. Some members of the public then demand to be heard after which the Commissioners revote and once again approve by 3-0 vote.

I know this is a lengthy letter but please bear with me, this is important.

Our zoning ordinance, as such things go, is quite standard. We have two district classes each for agricultural, residential and commercial uses. There is one district class each for industrial, and mineral extraction and then two more districts of very limited application. zoning ordinances are not government regulation for regulations sake. The purpose of zoning is to provide districts in which the needs of and the risks of various activities are addressed. Industrial and commercial operations need high levels of infrastructure: greater electric, water and sewer capacity, and roads that are wider and have greater load bearing capacity and in some instances rail connections. Taxpayer dollars provide these services. The businesses provide employment and an increased tax base. The businesses, in addition, by being clustered in their respective zones, are protected from complaints from inconsistent uses such as ag and residential; and ag and residential uses are protected from the negative aspects of the industrial and commercial uses: Higher volume traffic, high truck volume, noise, dust and air particulates, long hours of operation and high intrusion of operational and security lighting and the like.

All of this is intended to protect the high level of investment that is necessary to operate these businesses. The residential and ag zones similarly have their unique characteristics. They are areas of low impact. We all know what residences are. They are places of peace and quite, not to get too poetic, but, in fact, they are places to raise children and have them be safe on their bikes as well as provide places for people to go for walks and enjoy their property at the cooker or the pool or what have you. Ag, in turn, has high volume acreage requirements, and farmers under our ordinance have the needs of their industry addressed and protected. Residential uses within the ag districts have high acreage requirements to be consistent with the ag requirements. In sum, the ag and residential zones are the quiet and scenic areas that are so important to the quality of life here in Putnam County.

So where are we. Well, take them at their word, the Planning Commission, the Commissioners and the county attorney saw a need for a revision. What is ironic is that on two occasions members of both boards stated that they saw a "hole" in our zoning ordinance. Such was not the case. Our ordinance has been in conformity with all other zoning ordinances and it has satisfied the dual purposes of zoning: providing opportunity for economic development and growth for businesses and providing protection for the investment of all land uses, Industrial/Commercial and Agricultural and Residential.

Unfortunately, in fact, what the Commissioners have done is create a hole in the zoning structure in the county. Every zone and every homeowner, especially in the Ag and Residential zones will now have the risk and burden of having contractor storage yards, a clearly Industrial/Commercial use, right next door. Now the argument can be made that special exception uses have multiple conditions attached.

Well, if that use is next door to you, as well it may be, you can dress up a donkey any way you please and it is still gonna be a donkey.

Brian G. Gilmartin