The zoning experience of Wal-Mart during parts of 2005 and 2006 have taught residents and government officials many lessons, the most important of which is the necessity of communication between county government and citizens regarding zoning at the county commission and planning board levels.
Borne out of that experience is the knowledge that there is, as the saying goes, strength in numbers.
Recently, more than 20 residents from communities and groups across east Lincoln came out to hear about the new Neighborhood Community Notification (NCN) plan, which was created and the meeting organized by county commissioner Jim Klein.
Klein said that the NCN is the result of the realization that there wasnâ€™t a power base, organization or structure in place, much less a way to communicate.
â€œWhen all the dust settled (with Wal-Mart), it started gnawing at a lot of us,â€ said Klein. â€œWe determined as a group that we need to fix the process.â€
Klein added the effort is to try and get residents of Lincoln County the opportunity to weigh in on important matters, and to get the residents quicker notification in pending development matters.
Community groups and neighborhoods from across Lincoln County were invited to participate in the NCN rollout; however, only groups from east Lincoln attended the first meeting.
â€œWe simply got no response,â€ said Klein, speaking of any groups or people from other parts of the county.
In NCN, notifications will go out to selected contact people in the different neighborhoods and groups. The contact people, in turn, will notify people in the different neighborhoods.
The role of the contact people is strictly advisory and will have no voting power according to Klein, who added NCN wonâ€™t replace the current zoning process.
â€œItâ€™s meant to work beside the current process,â€ said Klein. â€œThe current process is still alive and still functions. With NCN, we can jump in and say whatever we want to say.â€
NCN is only intended for residential groups and not for commercial or industrial groups.
According to Klein, a neighborhood that doesnâ€™t have a homeownerâ€™s association can send a person around that says a certain person is going to be a representative.
At least 50 percent of the residents in the neighborhood need to sign a petition in order to get into the NCN process.
Resident Henry Fogle, president of the Westport Community Association, disagreed with the petition process.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to pound out a leash law right now and we have a crew of 30 people,â€ said Fogle. â€œWe havenâ€™t reached all 700 homes in our neighborhood.
Klein responded by saying that any residential or community group dedicated to quality of life can be in NCN.
Most of the information will emanate from the countyâ€™s Building and Land Development (BALD) office, with ELBA sending out the information. The contact people will then disseminate information through neighborhood email trees, where the contact people will encourage response to the particular issue.
Resident John Hedley cautioned the group on â€œestablishing a lot of bureaucracy.â€
â€œIf we get too bogged down, we wonâ€™t get anything accomplished,â€ Hedley said, adding his family has already lived through a Wal-Mart being built in their former Massachusetts town. â€œWeâ€™ve seen what it did to our little town and we donâ€™t want that to happen here.â€ Hedley`s wife, Margie, is the president and contact person for the East Lincoln Garden Club.
Klein, meantime, said to expect a lot of information received to possibly be mundane.
â€œDuring the last board regime, there were an average of 10 zoning requests going to the commission each month,â€ said Klein. â€œThatâ€™s changed now because developers wanted to get their requests in before the commission changed.â€
Klein added the county doesnâ€™t currently have the sewer capacity for developer requests as well.
The future hopes for NCN is that the program will be spread county-wide.
Resident Liz Craig said she was glad to see the NCN coming to fruition.
â€œWhen Wal-Mart came in, what they had proposed was outrageous. We would have been stuck with a store that looked like the one at Mountain Island Lake,â€ said Craig. â€œThis needs to be more far reaching than ELBA. To have this notification process is important for so many reasons, not just zoning issues.â€
by Jon Mayhew