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City Council restructures Planning Commission and Zoning Board

Harold Herndon, Nathan Fitts, Mayor Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Ken Gaddis and Robbie Cornelius.

By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~

Harold Herndon, Nathan Fitts, Mayor Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Ken Gaddis and Robbie Cornelius.
Harold Herndon, Nathan Fitts, Mayor Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Ken Gaddis and Robbie Cornelius.

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Item 6 under “Action Agenda Items (Items requiring the approval of the Council)” at the May 8 meeting of Blue Ridge City Council read, “An ordinance to combine the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Commission (Second Reading and Adoption).” The motion was unanimously approved.
In an email, City Attorney James Balli explained, “First, the Agenda is not an official document that is approved but is a summary document which sets forth an order of events. I stated to you that the agenda was incorrect meaning the detail of the description. The Ordinance passed on the second reading contained amendments for two previous ordinances dealing with the PC (Planning Commission) and the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals). Included within the changes was the ability for appointees to “combine” [legal word utilized was “concurrent”] service on both boards. Previously, there was no provision which would allow that combined service. Thus, there was a “combination” of the Boards to the extent that a person could combine their service on each. However, simply because a stated Motion does not go into detail of each paragraph of a proposed adopted written ordinance does not make it invalid. Instead, this was the second reading of an Ordinance which is required to be in writing and was so presented. The document was read into the record by the Mayor and then a Motion was made using the undetailed wording on the Agenda but referencing the detailed writing which was in front of all Council members and read in by number. In fact, the Motion states in part “accept the second reading of the Amendment” thus clearly referencing the written document whose provisions, among numerous other things, allow for combined service. The Mayor then called for a roll call vote which was unanimous. The Mayor signed the Ordinance, it was validly passed and it is now the law.”
Complying with the terms of the ordinance, Balli then read each council member’s appointments:
● Robbie Cornelius: Gene Holcombe to serve on both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals
● Rhonda Haight: Cindy Trimble to serve on both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals
● Harold Herndon: Mark Engledow – Planning Commission and Angelina Powell – Zoning Board of Appeals
● Nathan Fitts: Rick Skelton to serve on both boards
● Ken Gaddis: Thomas Kay – Planning Commission and Michael Eaton – Zoning Board of
After other “Action Agenda Items” were addressed, Purchasing Approvals made, and Executive Session completed, Eaton (current chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals) stood to question the council about changes to the two boards.
He said, “What I have a problem with is that we have basically eliminated three positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight for three different people who have put in a lot of time and effort on their part and were not contacted or told any of this was going to happen.”
Eaton mentioned how diligently Ralph Garner had worked; and John Soave and Brendan Doyle…wanting to know when their terms were up.
Mayor Donna Whitener replied that “their terms are up today.”
Eaton continued, “I feel like we’ve all been left in the dark. This has been done very disrespectfully. I think it’s been done very poorly.”
A second reading to Code Section 130.12 – the Illumination Ordinance amendment was also approved. The ordinance makes it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any city personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theater screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and maintenance.”
First-time violators of the ordinance now face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations are punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.
An amendment to “Council Meeting Rules of Procedures” was unanimously approved to allow for different times the public can comment (two minutes per person) for any item requiring a vote from the council. Only after public commentary would the council vote on the item. The amendment also will allow individuals to speak on items added late to the agenda, without having to request in advance to be on the agenda.
Zoning Supervisor Jeff Stewart presented bids/estimates for repairs to the roof at City Hall. After much discussion, council approved invoices for work on the drive-through and from Trademark Coatings for $35,427.50 for repair of the main roof of the building.
The city received $20,165.00 in insurance claims for damage sustained to city hall during a storm in the spring of 2017.
The council unanimously approved up to $10,000 for remodel of the City Police Department building on Church Street. In February, the council approved up to $10,000 for needed repairs and renovation. Whitener explained after initial work began, more problems and issues came up. However, she said the additional work should be covered under the additional $10,000 authorized.
Much discussion centered on the safety of the slide deck at the city pool and if it should be replaced or removed from the pool. Miracle Recreation Equipment Company submitted a quote for $6,009.86 to replace the slide. Haight questioned the decision to spend money to replace the slide considering other issues with the pool and the potential liability with using the slide.
Haight said, “Considering that we don’t really know the future of the pool, do we just take the slide down for right now or spend $6,000? I would suggest just take the slide out; first of all, it’s a liability, and second, because we don’t know the (pool’s) future.”
Whitener said purchasing parts to repair the pool for the upcoming season so far have amounted to under $5,000, which is less than anticipated. She said the slide is heavily used by children at the pool and removal would require additional concrete work.
Fitts agreed with Haight. “To keep spending money with the unknown future of the pool doesn’t make financial sense to me.”
After further discussion, the council approved the slide be taken out.
During public commentary, Gene Holcombe asked about the progress of adding downtown public restrooms and parking spaces.
Whitener replied that Herndon had recently suggested tbuilding a small restroom near the public parking lot off Mountain Street using detainee labor and engineering assistance from “Ken’s Company” (Gaddis Plumbing). She said the parking study was still in the process of being completed.
After an executive session, Councilwoman Haight made a motion to “resolve a claim involving 0.03 acres with Campbell Camp Investments LLC and to give the mayor authority to sign a quit claim for that property.” After a second from Gaddis, the motion passed unanimously.
The council approved three invoices from the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope.
Blue Ridge City Council meets at 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at City Hall.