The Blount County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to postpone a public hearing on proposed revisions to zoning and subdivision regulations during its Thursday, May 19 meeting.

The hearing would provide a forum for public comment on a set of recommendations concerning development within the county. The recommendations originated in an ad hoc committee to study zoning and were forwarded to the county’s planning commission in April. If implemented, the recommendations would strike provisions for cluster and planned use development from the county’s land use policy.

The final item of new business on the agenda was a resolution setting June 7 as the date for the public hearing. Commission Chair Ron French stressed that discussion should be restricted to the date of the hearing, rather than expanded to a wider debate on zoning regulations.

A commission workshop held May 10 had seen animated debate among commissioners about which zoning proposals should be included in the public hearing. Specifically, commissioners differed over whether it would be permissible to allow consideration of the board of commissioners’ own zoning and subdivision recommendations at the hearing, in addition to the ad hoc committee’s. The two sets of proposals contain different minimum lot sizes for homes built on county sewer and septic, among other differences.

County Commissioner Mike Akard, who has previously advocated for the changes proposed by the county commission to be debated during the public hearing, entered the discussion immediately after the scheduling resolution was moved to the floor.

He told other commissioners, “I’m voicing opposition to scheduling this meeting because our county attorney told us not to.” His reasoning, he said, was that the planning commission had not yet delivered feedback on the board of commissioners’ zoning and subdivision regulation proposals. Akard also noted that a letter from the county’s attorney called the decision to set the June 7 hearing date “premature.”

The motion to postpone was approved 18-0.

Akard also moved to task Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell with hiring a firm to create a comprehensive growth plan for the county.

“It’s apparent from several things I’ve become increasingly enlightened upon over the past few weeks that it’s in the taxpayers’ best interest, our best interest as commissioners, to give some really serious thought and task the mayor with finding a firm — an independent firm — to prepare a comprehensive growth plan for zoning in Blount County,” he said.

Numerous commissioners, as well as the mayor, noted that such a plan would likely take between 18 months and 24 months to complete.

The motion was admitted on the floor through unanimous consent, as it wasn’t on the meeting agenda. It also passed unanimously, though not without discussion.

Steve Mikels noted that he supported a study, but expressed concern about postponing both the public hearing and hiring a firm for a comprehensive growth plan. “Eighteen to 24 months is a lot of houses, and it’s a lot of growth. I think that we still need to keep our head down in thinking about the fact: what can we do to keep growth manageable in the next 18 to 24 months. So, our work is not done. We’re not just going to pass the buck to the mayor,” he said.

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