St. Joseph debates ‘Chapter 168,’ the subdivision of propertyThe St. Joseph Plan Commission will be holding an informational meeting regarding Chapter 168 on Wednesday, March 25, at 7 p.m. This meeting is open to the public, and all citizens and landowners of the Town of St. Joseph are invited, and encouraged to attend if they have and questions or issues with Chapter 168.
By: By Chris Hamble, Hudson Star-Observer
Regulations change. It’s as much a certainty as death and taxes. For better or worse, the documents that dictate the “what and where” of the many facets of lives are, in effect, living.
Documents that say, in no uncertain terms that “this is the way things have to be done… unless it’s not working, then we can see what we can do.” One problem with a living government document however is the trickle-down effect.
If a change were to come at the county or state level, local municipalities would be forced to play catch-up if their local regulations are less restrictive. With changes, be it minor or major, also come conflicting viewpoints. Is this change good? Should we increase more restrictions? Or should we keep things the way they were and try to change things back?
This brings us to Chapter 168 of the St. Joseph town code, entitled “The Subdivision of Land.”
Chapter 168 is a part of the living document that is the town code of St. Joseph. The Town Board passed proposed changes to the chapter during their January meeting to little fanfare. There were a few citizens in the audience that night that raised some concerns, but turnout was minimal and the new ordinances were passed.
However, during the February meeting things were different. Citizens who both liked, and disliked proposed new changes packed the hall. Nary a seat was empty, and the standing-room only crowd was energized, something that is somewhat unusual for a town of St. Joseph Board meeting. So what is it that caused such a stir?
According to Town Chair Theresa Johnson, the purpose of Chapter 168 is to “regulate and control the division of land within the Town of St. Joseph in order to promote the public health, safety, prosperity, aesthetics, quality of life and general welfare of the town.”
The 42-page document, (available by request at the St. Joseph Town Hall, or on the town website www.townofstjoseph.com) deals with the subdivision of land. Changes made to this ordinance will not affect any current landowners, unless they wish to subdivide their land or sell to a developer. A majority of the “new” chapter 168 is exactly the same as the “old” 168, with a few new additions that take the town into compliance with county statutes. These “new” regulations that are in 168, however, have been on the books, and mandatory for the past two years. But it’s not a lot of the regulations that have some in the Town worried or upset, it’s the way that the ordinance pertains to the Town’s “Future Land Use” map that has sparked the interest of local landowners.
“This is not a zoning map” Chairperson Johnson clarified. “When landowners are ready to sell to a developer or subdivide, the land use map will determine how those lands will be subdivided and what their use will be. The map is an estimate of how the town may look in 25 years if all the land is developed.”
There are exemptions to this put right in the amended Chapter 168 however. Exemptions include, but are not limited to:
Along with the aforementioned exemptions, landowners can also apply for a waiver if these provisions are not to their liking. According to Chapter 168-25, “The Town Board shall hear requests for waivers from the literal provisions of this Chapter in instances where strict enforcement would be impractical or unduly burdensome because of circumstances unique to the individual property under consideration and only when it is demonstrated by the subdivider/owner that the waiver would be in keeping with the spirit and intent of this Chapter. The Town Board may not grant as a waiver any use that is not a permitted use or a special use under the terms of any applicable zoning ordinances.” There are a few caveats to the waivers however. Among other regulations, they will not be issued is someone is simply looking to increase the value of their property, or for “mere inconvenience.”
At the February Town Board meeting resident Howard LaVenture, who began circulating a petition in January to protest the change, said, “This was done by a Plan Commission of non-landowners, telling landowners what to do with their property.”
LaVenture, who regularly attends both Town Board and Plan Commission meetings, also voiced a concern that was echoed by many of the dissenters in the audience, that there was a lack of public input considered when drafting, and passing the changes. Plan commission member Lloyd Dahlke also claimed he was “kept out of the loop.” Even going so far as to threaten legal action if such actions continue.
Others, such as citizen Joan Gerhan simply felt that such regulations were being “shoved down our throats.” Some in attendance were also seeking to either make the new provisions optional, Such as Plan Commission member Kevin Adkins, who supports 168.
“I’m not saying that 168 is bad, there is a lot of good in it, but it should be optional,” Adkins said.
Others attended with the hopes that it would simply be thrown out. Supervisor Dan Gavin, who was disappointed with this last minute reaction, after the item had been passed, said “people should have been involved from the get go. Everyone had a chance to be a part of the process.”
The Public has had the chance to weigh-in on this project since its infancy, going back as far as 2005, during a public participation meeting regarding goals for the Town’s comprehensive plan, to which the Town received over 1,000 suggestions. In addition to scheduled public meetings, all Town Board and Plan Commission meetings are, and were open to the public.
Information regarding these meeting were posted as required by law, and anyone who wished to have notices sent to them via email can contact the Town Clerk, who also noted at the Town Board meeting that only three people had contacted her for a copy of Chapter 168.
While most of the audience were worried about these regulations making it harder to subdivide, potentially lowered land value, and too much Government control, there were some, such as citizen Jeff Nachbar, that spoke out in favor of the amended chapter.
“Change is often controversial and hard,” said Nachbar. “We can’t stop change, and I’d feel better if it is done here than at the county or state level. The Town has done a great job. Is this perfect? No, but give it a chance.”
The St. Joseph Plan Commission will be holding an informational meeting regarding Chapter 168 on Wednesday, March 25, at 7 p.m. This meeting is open to the public, and all citizens and landowners of the Town of St. Joseph are invited, and encouraged to attend if they have and questions or issues with Chapter 168.