After more than two hours of discussion, the Camden County Planning and Zoning Commission conceded to public comment which overwhelmingly opposed proposed revisions to the land use code.
The planning commission held a public hearing on the revisions Wednesday, Feb. 20. A standing room only crowd packed the hearing to voice what appeared to be unanimous opposition to the revisions. The revisions increased the penalties for planning and zoning violations.
After hearing from the public, the planning commission agreed to revisit the proposed changes. A second hearing will be held before any recommendations are turned over to the Camden County Commission for consideration. The county commission has the final say.
The revisions are Included in Article 600 of the zoning district's codes.
A majority of the concerns raised during the hearing questioned the wording of the section. Residents referred to it as ambiguous and vague, saying it left too much to interpretation and gave planning and zoning too much authority.
In the first paragraph of section 604, it states, "If the Administrator finds that any provision of the Unified Land Use Code is being violated, based on an appropriately filed complaint or inspection..."
The words 'or inspection' led many residents in attendance to believe that the County could conduct an inspection without notice.
"If someone comes on to my property without a warrant, it is a violation of my fourth amendment rights," one concerned resident said. "This is a violation to the fourth amendment rights as it stands."
Members of the planning commission did attempt to defuse the concerns, assuring the residents the intent was not to compromise their rights.
"No one comes on to your property if you don't want them to," planning commission member Bill Pragman said.
Bill Seib, who lives within the planning and zoning district, said while he believes in the need for land use codes, "I think the enforcement we are looking at here sucks, that's the nicest word I can come up with."
Nancy Steward, long time Camden County resident, agreed the word 'inspection' should be removed from the revision of article 600.
"We have a right to have our homes be our homes and not to have someone stop and find a violation," Steward said.
Stacy Shore, a lake area realtor, asked the planning and zoning commission to clarify the meaning of the word 'inspection.'
She said "Inspection is a really big word. Is it inside or outside?" She also questioned the meaning of the word nuisance which is also included in the proposed wording of Article 600.
The latest revision to Article 600 states, "If the evidence does not support a finding that the property, building or structure is in violation of the Unified Land Use Code, or nuisance and detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Camden County, the County Commission shall issue an order setting forth specific findings of fact, based upon competent and substantial evidence, that no such nuisance exits."
Page 2 of 2 - "Folks, I went through the code and article 2 is filled with definitions. The definition of the word 'nuisance' is not in the code," Shore said.
The audience seemed in agreement that the potential $500 fine was simply too much. In the current Article 600, if a resident is found in violation, they could be punished by a fine up to $1,000 or a maximum of one-year imprisonment or both. The revision no longer includes imprisonment but instead includes a fine not exceeding $500.
"Those people fined $500 a day do not have the means to repair their homes will lose their homes. Those are their homes. You go and fine them $500 a day. That will affect them adversely," Shore said. "We want to be a part of the process, we do not want this to just happen to us."
One board member spoke up saying, "This was not put in place to generate revenue for the county."
"Zoning is here to protect your property," Commissioner, BJ Page, said. "Our intention is not to do something bad."
Most residents voiced their opposition saying the penalties were too strict.
"As a person that was raised here, I feel like we are getting very heavy handed on this," Jeff Shore said.
It all came down to the use of words and the alleged ambiguity of the revisions.
"There are too many unanswered questions concerning the wording," resident Brenda Goodman said. "Each of these words have a lot of meanings to a lot of people. It's just too ambiguous."
After listening to the public's concerns, planning and zoning commission decided to take the resident's concerns and propose more changes to the article.
"We will go back to the drawing board again and see what we can come up with and have another public hearing," Chairman Jerry Carroll said.