New Macon commissioner offers solution to planning stalemateWritten by Quintin Ellison
With the advent of new leadership for commissioners, Macon County’s planning board could undergo a metamorphosis into what’s being dubbed a truer “advisory” role.
In recent years, the planning board has been a magnet of negativity for factions on both sides of the land planning issue.
Kevin Corbin has been the new chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners for less than a month, but has already identified land-use planning as one of the county’s most pressing issues. A date has not yet been settled on for the board’s annual retreat where the topic will be discussed.
Corbin was appointed to the county board to replace Brian McClellan, who resigned following his second DWI arrest in two years. Corbin was elected to the leadership seat by his fellow four commissioners the same week shortly after McClellan stepped down.
The chairman has just one vote but does have real power to steer the board’s agenda and structure meetings. Corbin, a Republican from Franklin, isn’t new to the county’s political sphere. He served for two decades as a member of the Macon County Board of Education. And, like father like son: Corbin’s Dad, Harold, served as chairman of the commission board from 1998 to 2002.
Other issues Corbin wants reviewed during the retreat include economic development initiatives, school needs and the county’s budget for the next fiscal year.
Corbin on Monday said he believes that the planning board has become polarized by its members’ fundamentally different views. Commissioners, he said, must assume more prominent roles in the land-planning arena for meaningful progress on planning to take place.
“I think it’s a tough balance,” Corbin said. “But I really do believe there’s a way to have sensible regulations without stopping construction and real estate.”
The new chairman equated land planning to the delicate task of holding a wet bar of soap. Squeeze too hard, the soap squirts from your hand. Hold the bar too loosely and it falls from such a tepid grip.
Corbin wants commissioners simply to receive recommendations from the planning board, not written ordinances ready for adoption or rejection. Commissioners instead would hammer out tricky details; the county attorney would prepare the actual document.
This would remove some of the spotlight from planning board members, Corbin said, and place the pressures where they more rightfully belong — on commissioners. It’s commissioners who’ve been duly elected to make these decisions. Planning board members, in contrast, are community volunteers appointed to their positions by commissioners.
Besides, commissioners ultimately approve any ordinance drafted by the planning board, and in the process end up rewriting portions of it anyway — usually repeating the same debate that already played out at the planning board level.
Where would that leave the construction guidelines adopted by the planning board after great public strife? The guidelines are the result of a two-year effort by the planning board to write a steep slope ordinance. But following dissent on the planning board and perceived lukewarm support from county commissioners, the full ordinance was replaced with more basic construction “guidelines.” Commissioners have been holding the proposed guidelines from the planning board for some three months without any visible signs of action.
Corbin wants those suggested guidelines and the county’s subdivision and soil and erosion ordinances reviewed by Attorney Chester Jones. There is redundancy plus, possibly, needed changes such as what’s involved in the rules for subdivision road building, Corbin said.
In this brave new world, commissioners would clearly and publicly guide Attorney Jones, Corbin said. A prime example would be the actual slope percentages when it comes to cut and fill rules in road building: commissioners would decide on a percentage they find acceptable, not the attorney.
On other issues, Corbin said:
• Macon County is in “very good shape” financially. That said, this Republican-controlled board will look for areas in which to make additional cuts. This could be difficult to accomplish because the historically fiscally conservative board has reduced the county budgets by an overall 15 percent already as a result of the recession.
Also, because of ongoing national, state and local economic maladies, residents’ basic needs are increasing: real help, in the form of additional county dollars, might need funneling toward assisting with heating, food and so on, Corbin said.
“We may find ourselves in a place where we have to support these things aggressively,” he said.
• The Macon County Schools will need financial help, too. Federal funding, up to $2 million worth, has dried up. “You increase what you spend or reduce what you do,” Corbin said, adding he opposes any budget reductions that would hit teachers and teacher assistants. Macon County might look at some one-time spending options for the schools, such as helping replace aging computers, Corbin said.
• Economic development efforts must press forward regardless of whether such efforts bear immediate fruit or, more likely in this woeful economic climate, don’t.
Corbin said that new county economic development leader Tommy Jenkins would discuss planned efforts and economic hopes