The Washington County Regional Planning Commission may be about to undergo a major overhaul in a move which appears to have a bottom-line goal of growing the county’s tax base.
County Mayor Dan Eldridge will present a resolution to the County Commission on Feb. 25 that reduces the membership on the planning commission from 15 to nine, including the reduction of county commissioners who served on that body from six to four.
Eldridge said the recommendation and his proposed appointees are not meant as a show of any lack of appreciation or dissatisfaction with the people currently serving. But he is making clear that the five people being recommended are studied in the arts of building, development, appraising and civil engineering experience and that there is a need for the planning commission to be comprised of members with more expertise in these fields.
“I simply feel perceptions that have developed as a result of events occurring over the past several months related to the permitting and regulatory environment in Washington County must be addressed,” he said. “The perceptions are overriding and burdensome regulation -- administrative processes and decisions that people perceive to be politically motivated.”
Eldridge said he was “completely reshaping” the planning commission in response to concerns expressed from builders and developers. As the economy begins to improve, it is important for Washington County to be well positioned for new investment, recognizing that growth of the tax base will be necessary to continue offering the level of services and school funding expected in this community, he added.
“Planning and zoning is an administrative process,” he said. “And when builders and developers get the idea it (process) could be influenced by politics, it’s a distinctive disincentive for them to invest.”
He also said the county must make it a priority to communicate closely with Johnson City and Jonesborough as development goes forward, while creating a “development friendly reputation.”
The reduction of two county commissioners would come from seats formerly held by Joe Corso, who is deceased, and Ken Lyon, who has decided to step down.
“I was told they wanted to reduce the number, so I just resigned,” Lyon said Monday. “If they want to appoint some other people. I’m not going to get tore up about it.”
This leaves four county commissioners on the planning commission whose terms expire in 2014: Alpha Bridger, Mark Larkey, Skip Oldham and Gerald Sparks.
The proposed appointees are: Rex Garrison, 23 years as a residential and commercial appraiser; Tim Hicks, 32 years in building and development; Sam Lindley, 34 years as a civil engineer designing residential, commercial and institutional projects; Chuck Mason, 30 years experience as owner/manager of a 100-plus employee company operating multi-state as a construction and farm equipment dealer; Joe McCoy, 30 years as a licensed surveyor in Tennessee.
“I think there are some county commissioners that may not agree with these appointments,” said Mike Rutherford, the county’s zoning administrator. “We keep the maps and zoning regulations up-to-date that they use to make decisions. But as far as our staff, there’s no impact on us.”
Rutherford acts as the planning commission’s secretary.
If confirmed, McCoy and Mason would serve the 15th Civil District and serve the balance of a 4-year term that expires Aug. 31. Garrison (12th Civil District) and Lindley (9th Civil District) would serve the balance of a 4-year term that expires Aug. 31, 2015. Hicks, (12th Civil District) would serve the balance of a 4-year term that expires Aug. 31, 2016.