Elizabethton's planning, utilities directors have made many changes in short time

John Thompson • Oct 8, 2012 at 9:18 AM

ELIZABETHTON — New leadership at two of the top levels within the city government is being felt in several ways, including the rewriting of many of the city’s ordinances and municipal code.

One of Elizabethton’s new senior leaders is the youngest director of planning in Tennessee. Jon Hartman, a 2009 graduate of Milligan College, has been Elizabethton’s director of planning for a year. Prior to taking over the role, Hartman served an internship with the city. He was then hired full time as community planner while still a senior at Milligan.

Like Hartman, another of the city’s top leaders, has also only been in his position for a year, but Johann Coetzee is certainly one of Elizabethton’s most experienced and longest serving managers. A year ago, City Manager Fred Edens announced that Coetzee would become the city’s first utilities director. The new job would include overseeing the city’s electrical, water and wastewater departments. Prior to his promotion, Coetzee had served the city since 1995 as director of the wastewater department.

Both Coetzee and Hartman have already brought about significant changes in their departments.

Coetzee recently announced a reorganization of the water and wastewater departments, designed to streamline operations and reduce the number of managers from six to four. Instead of a director for each department, the two top leaders, Ed Mullins and Jim Roberts, have responsibilities that include both water and wastewater. Mullins serves as facilities manager and Roberts as construction manager.

Hartman has also been streamlining the Planning Department, most visibly with the rewriting of several planning regulations.

His latest rewrite, of the city’s tree regulations, was rewritten in its entirety and the new version was approved by the Elizabethton Planning Commission last Thursday. Hartman said the previous document was 13 pages long, while his rewrite is only a page and a half.

In addition to its brevity, Hartman also received praise from the planners for the clear language of the document. Planner Dena Bass congratulated Hartman and said “as a layperson, I understand this one.”

The new regulation reverses city policy on tree maintenance in the public right of ways. Under the new provision, adjacent property owners have full authority over trees and brush in such areas and require no permission to remove trees.

The tree regulation is just one of several rewrites that both Hartman and Coetzee have completed over the past few months.

Several already have been approved by the City Council and the latest will be considered during the City Council’s next meeting on Thursday.

These rewrites include the second reading and public hearing on Thursday of the revision of local permit fees on building codes. The council was told the changes were needed because conflicting information between the local codes and adopted codes was causing confusion to both staff and contractors. The current code also referenced outdated material and policies and procedures that are no longer practiced by similarly sized cities. The new changes will follow the International Building Code and permit contractors and developers to operate in Elizabethton without having to learn local regulations.

Coetzee has also been successful in getting approval for extensive rewrites. In September, the City Council approved on second reading a rewrite of Chapter 2 of the Sewer Use Ordinance. The revision was needed because of the latest state and federal regulations, but the staff took the opportunity in the rewrite to correct a few cross references and other small deficiencies and modified the placement of the rate system.

There have also been changes that were done in anticipation of future needs, including a change to the zoning regulation approved by the planners last week. It was a proposed addition to the B-2 arterial business zoning district to allow liquor stores and package stores to be located there in the event the voters of Elizabethton approve a referendum in the November election to allow such stores. The change would only come into effect if the voters pass the referendum and the City Council approves the change.

By getting the approval in October, Hartman will enable the will of the people to be met at the earliest time. The City Council meets a week after the referendum and will be able to approve the zoning change at that meeting. If the voters do not approve the referendum, the action of the Planning Commission would be moot and no action would be needed.

But by acting in October instead of waiting until after results are known in November, Hartman shaves three or four months off the time the zoning regulations can be changed if the referendum passes.

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