Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
It is in most individual's nature to be quick to complain and slow to praise. Let today be an exception. Over the past several months, I have been privileged to sit in on county commission meetings and workshops, and to talk with county representatives and community leaders. For the most part, I have been an attentive observer, and after last night's meeting I'd like to comment on what I have observed. I became intensely interested in our county governing process when I realized this is a critical hour, that rapid change sometimes comes at an inopportune time, and quite frankly that my own neighborhood was at risk of being swept into the perfect storm of bad timing and rapid change. But, change always produces opportunity and I'm well pleased to note the board has taken each and every opportunity to situate our community for the changes we face. From selection of new county engineers and legal representation to guiding the county through what could have been a grave and consequential decision about how to use a large grant, the commissioners have demonstrated an attitude of county first, you have been engaged in the process, informed, neighborly and conscientious. It is obvious each of you serve with a true commitment to our
community. I've also observed a genuine respect and refreshing collegiality among yourselves whether in agreement on the issues or otherwise. I commend each of you on doing the hard work to get us to this point, and I offer my continuing support as an appreciative resident of Jefferson County.
Please allow me to comment on a few recurring themes from last night's discussion of the Egret Marsh wedding venue/barndominium. For those who may not have been present, the applicant requested a special exception to build a barndominium on family acreage to be used for a personal residence and a wedding venue. To this observer, she provided little detail on impacts to the surrounding neighborhood, public accommodation and safety, and traffic impacts. She was eager to pursue a combined desire to live on family property and have an income source. She also asked commissioners and residents to "trust" that all would be well as her undeveloped "plan" evolved. With as much heart as I can give this eager young woman, I say, that is a very big ask. In support of her request, I heard two themes repeated as if the weight of them alone was sufficient to grant the request.
Many, many times last night we heard "these are nice people" and I'm certain they are very nice people. But, that fact is not relevant to this issue. The reality is nice people sometimes become not-so-nice people as life changes circumstances and people respond to those conditions. But the more important reality is that this is no way to make a decision for the residents of Jefferson County. Does this mean we make decisions based upon who is well liked in our community and a less popular applicant would be denied on the basis of how
well liked they were? Does that mean the owners who live south of the applicant's property will be permitted to get their special exception for their dream project next year, but only if they are "nice" as judged by whom? If they are not judged to be "nice enough" will they sue the county when they are denied? Who will be the judge of whether one is "nice" enough to
get a special exception? We also heard that their neighbors did not object. Please think about how difficult it might be for a neighbor of more than twenty years to object to their "nice" neighbors realizing their dream of having an income producing business and their home in one convenient location. Many neighbors could not say no if asked, but may still hope their commissioners vote in such a way to protect their property values and enjoyment of their property. Further, we should agree, weddings are a lifetime celebration. No venue proprietor would stifle the celebration in the interest of being neighborly, and if she does she may not be in business for long,
We also heard many times over, the phrase "property rights". Using the term "rights" strikes a chord in most people. After all, no one wants to lose a "right." But as I listened last night to the term being used repeatedly, I began to think about just what my "property rights" were. Having owned multiple properties in multiple counties, sized large to small, I have never thought my "property rights" exceeded what existed at the time I purchased my property. It's my rather strong feeling that one can not have a "right" if a freedom must be surrendered by others in order for them to enjoy their new-found "rights." Or as another said so well last night, "my rights end where another's begin." With that, I suggest you begin to think of "property rights" as nothing more than what existed at the time the property was deeded. I also question the use of "special exceptions" to the land use code. Why wouldn't it simply be handled as a change to the land use code with the requisite applicant requirements? After all, one exception will surely lead to others and when it does, where do you draw the line?
This is a slippery slope.
Two individuals suggested a moratorium on approvals for allowing residential properties to be changed to commercial use. I support such a pause and believe others would too until such time as a thorough evaluation of the land use code and the process of defining and approving special exceptions is completed in coordination with the county's law firm. Please consider this possibility.
Again, I thank you for the very meaningful contribution you make to this county. It is hard, and often thankless work, but it is vital to the residents you serve