A former Rutherford County Commission candidate made a fiery speech with accusations and demands at the Planning Commission meeting last week.
Rutherford County’s Regional Planning Commission was scheduled to work through the proposed zoning ordinance intended to add teeth to the recently adopted comprehensive land-use plan.
But former County Commission candidate Jake Robinson, who is the husband of Rutherford County Register of Deeds Heather Dawbarn, was allowed to speak, though the meeting was not a public hearing.
Robinson went to the meeting with more than 2,000 e-mail exchanges between Planning Director Doug Demosi, who would not comment on Robinson’s accusations and Parsons Brinkerhoff, the planning consulting firm working with Rutherford County to create the comprehensive plan, which was created to guide land development in the county according to citizen input.
“I believe Parsons Brinkerhoff came to our county with a predetermined outcome of what they thought our plan should look like. I can prove that,” Robinson said.
Robinson then made several allegations against the Planning Department and Parsons Brinkerhoff, claiming there was a collaborative effort to suppress public involvement in the process. In support, Robinson read an e-mail from Demosi to Parsons Brinkerhoff that said, in part, “I’ve updated the blog, however, since you are concerned about unpleasant postings, I’ve set it up such that moderation is enforced. This means the administrator can view the posts before they are posted.”
“Now maybe they are talking about foul language, could be, or maybe they’re talking about dissenting views that they may not want to hear,” Robinson said.
Robinson read part of the contract with Parsons Brinkerhoff, which provided suggestions for successful planning saying, “Public involvement is essential to the process. It is imperative the public feel they are involved.”
The Planning Commission held countless open meetings for the public to address concerns or suggest changes to the comprehensive plan last year before it was adopted.
As the zoning ordinance is being written, there are several outlets for public input including public hearings and the previously mentioned blog, as well as e-mail and phone.
The Planning Commission addresses each and every comment at its monthly meetings and in many cases, makes changes to the ordinance based on public suggestions.
Robinson also expressed concern that certain terms are not defined within the comprehensive plan including “sustainable development,” which is mentioned in the vision statement of the plan and is described as preserving natural resources and historical qualities of the county.
“I’ve still not received a definition for what sustainable development actually is,” Robinson said. “When I asked Doug Demosi, because if we’re going to have a vision – a 25-year vision that we all buy into – we would need to know what sustainable development actually means.”
Robinson said it makes him nervous to think the planner does not have a definition and the committees may not be making decisions based on words that mean things.
The Planning Commission has said the vision statements are not ordinances and are defined by zoning regulations.
Robinson concluded his speech by saying he also wanted proof that property values would not suffer under the new plan. He argued that just saying it won’t hurt property values is not enough.