Countywide zoning — it’s a case of ‘Tainted Love’

It’s ironic that the folks trying desperately to defend the Gibson County Commissioners’ rush to impose zoning restrictions on their rural constituents—during a pandemic—have seized on the “inconsistency” of their opponents. When citizens look at the public record, they find that it’s dotted with examples of how the commissioners have failed over and over again to act consistently with state laws and accepted planning practice:

For the foundation of their zoning ordinance, the commissioners opted to use a plan written by an Evansville consultant in 2009. This was back before I-69 was finished, when the Black Eyed Peas were riding high on the charts.

Their 2009 plan didn’t even recommend zoning for Gibson County. It didn’t suggest that wind and solar energy ought to be regulated. Actually, it didn’t mention wind or solar energy at all.

State law says that the county’s plan commission should prepare the comprehensive plan for a county, but the commissioners had already decided not to have a professional planner update their 2009 plan. Instead, they figured they’d hire an Evansville law firm to defend that outdated plan, despite the fact it was never vetted in a proper public hearing.

Their plan commission (the APC was created nine years after the 2009 plan was written) could have hired a professional planner for under $100,000 to help them prepare an up-to-date plan, as well as a new ordinance. But their lawyers told them they should go ahead and use the old plan, and just use Haubstadt’s zoning ordinance as their model. According to the APC’s minutes from a 2018 meeting, APC members knew then that the 2009 plan was “dated and may not be accurate for today.” How accurate can it be now, when it’s 11 years old?

The commissioners have now spent well over $350,000 on attorney fees to justify the county’s use of a plan that’s outdated (by its own terms!), and based on a town’s ordinance. Instead of the Black Eyed Peas, their act reminds me more of Soft Cell, you know, the British guys who sang “Tainted Love” back in 1981.

The APC tweaked that town ordinance supposedly to preserve the “Right to Farm” which is already protected by state laws. But then they also added restrictions on the right of a farmer’s family to have a home-based business or even to park their business trucks in a new barn.

On top of all that, they overlooked that their ordinance now gives the county commissioners the power to unilaterally abolish Haubstadt’s (and Princeton’s) authority to zone in their two-mile fringe area. Oops! Maybe the current commissioners don’t really know what they’re doing!

Finally, the commissioners declined to even consider passing a short and simple public safety ordinance to prevent windmills from interfering with weather radar operations. State law, IC 36-8-2-4, and Indiana Supreme Court precedents clearly would allow this approach.

Neither have the commissioners bothered to ask federal or state agencies to write regulations to protect the radar. They probably don’t know that the Indiana Department of Homeland Security already has rules that apply to a county’s warning siren coverage plans. But then, Gibson County doesn’t yet have a warning siren coverage plan. Well, the state law providing for siren coverage plans is only 12 years old.

About the pending lawsuit, your readers need to know that Indiana’s public access counselor doesn’t have the final say on whether the county’s officials may have violated our open meeting laws—and he doesn’t even have legal authority to render opinions on whether they have violated Indiana’s zoning enabling act. Those matters are for the courts to decide.

John Molitor

Indianapolis

 

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