Part five in a five-part series addressing Camden County’s most pressing needs.
Planning and zoning has been a hot topic in Camden County for several months, but in reality has been an ongoing issue for years. The incidences of controversy are so many and various that it's hard to get your mind around the problems to explain them, let alone fix them.
Implementation of the regulations on development within the lake district has been a challenge from its conceptual approval by voters in 1997 to the much later inception of the actual Unified Land Use Code in 2004 and beyond.
In its relatively short life span, Camden County P&Z has been through multiple directors. The county has poured tens of thousands of dollars and unknown man hours into attempts to implement it, fix it and fix it some more, yet always seeming to miss the mark.
If you're around the Lake of the Ozarks region long enough, you'll likely hear about how unique it is. And in the planning and zoning department, Camden County certainly faces its own brand of challenges.
Not urban yet also not a truly rural area, the county's lakefront is packed with homes intermixed with businesses after decades of major growth without planning and zoning.
Though it was long-since approved by voters, P&Z continues to be highly politicized and seems to lack a consensus in the vision for the future as well as on the tools to carry that vision out.
The region has a tradition of anti-regulatory sentiment that continues to impact Camden County P&Z. Many want less strict regulations or none at all.
Additionally, wide swaths of lakefront have little to no regulation as they lie in jurisdictions without planning and zoning. Uneven regulations in the region have brought even more heat to bear on Camden County P&Z.
Partly due to the politicization of P&Z and partly due to personality conflicts and other personnel issues, the department has suffered from discontinuity and instability with turnover in the position of administrator. The resignation of Don Hathaway and the new hire of Kim Willey was just the latest installment.
Continuity is also lacking elsewhere. The government struggles to formulate a plan and then stick with it, or if not stick to the plan, to at least take a more calm and matter-of-fact approach to refining it.
Camden County had barely entered the P&Z business (2004) before it started to redo the original master plan in a multi-year process with consultants that culminated in the final approval of a new plan in 2010. Now it looks as though it will be redone again regardless of who is elected to lead the county — the most recent version still not being well-liked by many on either side of the current debate.
Not only are the code and plan in almost constant debate since the vote and implementation in 2004, individual high profile cases have challenged P&Z at almost every step with a great deal of pressure coming to bear on the department, planning commission and county commission from both business people and residents.
The divide is often framed as one between economic development versus residents' desires — as if a choice has to be made between the two when it is really up to P&Z and the plan to promote both in harmony.
Whether the vision for the county laid out in the plan is adequate is a matter of opinion, but while a master plan currently exists, it is often not readily apparent how strongly the plan and future land use map — which is the physical manifestation of the plan — play into specific case decisions anyway.
As it struggles to find its way in the morass, the overall P&Z entity in Camden County has seemed to take a path of accommodation and mitigation, trying to allow most projects — wherever they may be — to go forward but with stipulating conditions to try to mitigate the impact on the opposition, typically residents. As is the case with many a compromise, it often leaves both sides less than satisfied, and they continue to stump for changes.
It is unclear whether P&Z is trying to create areas of compatible uses with buffer zoning in between — as is done in traditional zoning — or if accommodation and mitigation to allow mixed uses is in fact the long term plan for the district.
Outside of individual zoning cases, many other problems exist as a result of the central issues. Errors in mapping, information reportedly varying from administrator to administrator, vagueness in the code, cost for permits, enforcement problems — all these complaints have needed to be addressed yet continue largely unabated as debate goes on endlessly without resolution.