GREENWOOD TWP- Greenwood resident Mary Richard will probably serve the shortest term ever on the board of adjustment here. Midway through Tuesday’s town board meeting, supervisors appointed her to …
GREENWOOD TWP- Greenwood resident Mary Richard will probably serve the shortest term ever on the board of adjustment here. Midway through Tuesday’s town board meeting, supervisors appointed her to fill a vacancy on the board, which oversees variance requests.
But minutes later, the board began a discussion on the future of township control of planning and zoning that ended with a 4-1 vote to relinquish the township’s authority over planning and zoning to St. Louis County.
Supervisor John Bassing had placed the issue on the meeting agenda, noting that township residents had voted at the past three annual meetings to give zoning authority back to the county. He said while township officials had often stated that the costs for local zoning are paid through permit fees, this did not take into account the salary for the planning director.
“The two top vote-getters in the last two township elections were in favor of moving zoning to St. Louis County,” Bassing said.
Greenwood residents, he noted, are already paying their share of the costs for the county planning department, which also includes the services of the county attorney’s office. Attorney fees have become a regular, and sometimes costly, part of the zoning process in the township.
Bassing also reminded the board that recently two planning commission meetings were cancelled due to a lack of a quorum, and two board of adjustment variance meetings had to be reheard because they were not properly noticed in the township’s current legal newspaper, The Tower News.
Bassing’s motion to move planning and zoning to St. Louis County was quickly seconded by Supervisor John Milbridge.
Supervisor Gene Baland said he was opposed to making the decision so quickly.
“I’d like a month to think about it, to give people a chance to voice their opinions,” he said. “I don’t think it is fair. A lot of constituents like the personal service.”
Supervisor Carmen DeLuca noted that residents have had three years to voice their concerns both at regular meetings and annual meetings.
Several in the audience gave examples of the level of service they had received through St. Louis County in zoning issues, and had positive reviews. One resident spoke up about the difficulty he had recently encountered securing a simple permit from Greenwood, and said he had to enlist the assistance of a board member to get his permit issued in a timely manner after repeated calls to the Planning Director were not returned.
Planning Director Julia Maki was not present at the meeting. The town board approved, on a split vote earlier this year, a three-year contract with Maki. The township would still have the right to eliminate the position, said Supervisor Carmen DeLuca, who noted that Maki may have the option of going on unemployment.
Lee Peterson, who served on the township’s planning commission for nine years, said he was in favor of the change.
“I got on the board because it was a mess,” he said. “We had some pretty good members for a time, but we couldn’t make it.”
Peterson said that the county has college-educated, professional staff.
“I am tired of hearing there is better service here,” he said. “The county will do site visits.”
Peterson also spoke about his experience in Fayal Township, where local zoning was also controversial and was turned back to the county.
“Everyone I’ve talked to said it was the best thing they did, and the township is getting along better now,” Peterson said.
DeLuca said the township will need to develop the timeline for the changeover, in conjunction with St. Louis County.
Bassing told the board the township would have the option of setting up their own advisory board that would give recommendations to county zoning on any variance requests in the township.
Peterson reminded the board that they had held two evenings of public input on the zoning issue back in 2014, after residents at the annual meeting had first voted to eliminate local zoning. The actual decision to eliminate zoning is made at the town board level, so the votes made at annual meetings were just advisory.
At the town board meeting in April 2014, about ten residents spoke in favor of eliminating local zoning. Reasons cited included the financial costs, issues of favoritism, the ability to protect water quality in Lake Vermilion, legal costs, and the difficulties of enforcement. At their May 2014 meeting, Planning Director Maki, along with several others, mostly who had seats on the two zoning boards, spoke in favor of retaining local control. At that meeting, the town board members voted unanimously to keep local control.
Residents at the meeting Tuesday clearly were ready for the town board to make a decision on the matter, without further delay. The audience erupted in a loud round of applause when the vote was taken, passing 4-1 with Baland voting against.
The township ceded local control of assessing back to St. Louis County over a year ago.