In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote words that are staggeringly relevant to the proposed zoning proposal for Lewis & Clark County: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Right now, many of the “governed” are definitely not consenting to the zoning plan in Lewis and Clark County! We are being told that the loudest voices are always those who oppose the plan. That may, or may not, be true. What is true is that there is no burning reason that the county commission needs to adopt this proposal right now. It has been batted around for years and years without resolution. It’s time for the county commission to do the right thing and find out what the people really do want before taking action that will undoubtedly result in unintended consequences.
I urge the commissioners to step away from the brink and remember their primary obligation is to be responsive and transparent. The current proposal does not appear to be responsive to the needs of those in the rural areas of the county, and, although we’ve been told that there is widespread support for the plan, the comments available to the public certainly don’t tell that story. In fact, based on the responses from the public that have been published, it’s actually impossible to discern much support at all from the community.
The Lewis & Clark County Growth Policy Update 2015 document suggests that there is a need to include “… the public in the decision-making process that determines where development occurs and at what densities…” It would appear that the planning board may have listened, but have to a large degree, ignored the public. That is not acceptable. As I have stated before, I cannot envision an example where, if I were elected county commissioner, I could support a proposal that was opposed by well over 90% of the citizens who had expressed an opinion – especially after at least six well-advertised public meetings seeking input from the citizens.
There’s another problem with the proposed plan that seems to be largely ignored: The blank pages. Dozens of sections in the proposal are left completely empty “for future use.” This only adds to the suspicions of people worried about losing their fundamental right to own and enjoy their private property. As contentious as this issue has become, and because of the previous missteps in the presentation of this zoning document, the county commission’s credibility is at stake and they should not move forward at this time.
After years and years of drafting and discussions, now there’s a big push to finally deal with the proposed policy, right or wrong. With all due respect to the dedicated individuals who have spent many long hours working on this plan, it is a flawed plan in too many ways. In meeting after meeting, the vast majority of responses have been in opposition to the proposals. Even after changes and tweaks are made, the loudest and most passionate voices remain as fervent and committed as ever.
It is time to stop the nonsense! County commissioners, please take the zoning plan off the table!
Tom Rolfe is running for a seat on the Lewis and Clark County Commission.