In March of this year, the Washington County Planning & Zoning Commissioners held a public hearing on an application by Mr. and Mrs. Sam Lancaster for a rezone of their property on Gentry Lane from A-1 to A-2 for six 20-acre parcels because the County Planning & Zoning Administrator told them that’s what they had to do. The only two speakers in favor of the rezone were Jeri Soulier, a Realtor for 30 years and former Planning & Zoning Commissioner for over a decade, and former Planning and Zoning Administrator Chad Brock. There were 11 people representing the Gentry Lane property owners who spoke against the rezone. The concerns of those opposed were not considered and, after limited discussion, the P&Z Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the application for rezone.
Because the issues brought forward by those opposed to the rezone were not addressed, the County Commissioners asked the P&Z Commissioners to hold another hearing to address those issues, and the second public hearing was held in May of this year. At this hearing, the Gentry Lane property owners believed it was necessary to have an attorney speak on their behalf in an effort to protect and defend their property rights and educate the Planning & Zoning Commission and the County Attorney. Also at this hearing, former and newly appointed P&Z Commissioner Jeri Soulier brought in a water locater expert, Mr. Lolley, to speak on behalf of the Lancasters, and she announced that she had done some research and investigation on her own, and she informed the other P&Z Commissioners of her findings.
The result of this second hearing was that, by unanimous vote of the P&Z Commissioners, the application for rezone was approved for the second time. No one, including the County Attorney Delton Walker, seemed to be concerned that it was a conflict of interest for Ms. Soulier to have been an advocate for the Lancasters in both public hearings, she was in favor of the rezone, she had done her own research on the matter, she was obviously biased, and she was now voting on the matter. As a newly appointed P&Z Commissioner, she should have recused herself. It was obviously a conflict of interest. The County Attorney was there and was aware that this was a conflict of interest. He didn’t point it out, as he should have and as he has done with multiple other people.
As a side note, the second public hearing was not recorded and the minutes of the public hearing do not show that Jeri Soulier spoke at all, nor do the minutes reflect that Ron Jaeger spoke at all, which he did. Mr. Jaeger is now a P&Z Commissioner who had recently been appointed for the second time.
Between the time of the second P&Z hearing and when the County Commissioners were to make the final decision on the rezone, and amid rumors of an imminent lawsuit against Washington County on the inconsistencies of the application of the County Code, County Attorney Delton Walker decided to enlist legal advice on the matter from outside counsel, a land attorney in Boise.
On Monday, June 21, at the Board of County Commissioners hearing, on a motion made by Commissioner Chandler and seconded by Commissioner Haines, and by unanimous vote, the County Commissioners denied the application for rezone because it was not necessary for the Lancasters to apply for a rezone in the first place since the County Code allows for a building permit on 20 acres or more that is zoned A-1.
The Lancasters should never have had to go through this entire process. The Gentry Lane property owners should never have had to go through this entire process, let alone having to bear the cost of hiring an attorney. If the Code had just been followed in the beginning, all of this could have been avoided.
When you have nine P&Z Commissioners who do not know the Code, one of whom was a past P&Z Commissioner and is newly appointed to serve again, and another P&Z Commissioner who has had 30 years of experience in real estate and over a decade as a P&Z Commissioner in the past and is newly appointed to serve again, when you have the County Attorney not knowing the Code and having to enlist legal advice from outside counsel, and when two of the three County Commissioners do not know the Code, it is a disservice to the Lancasters and a greater disservice to the other property owners on Gentry Lane.
The only County Commissioner who has known all along what the Code allows is Commissioner Kirk Chandler. Commissioner Chandler has been trying to explain for at least three years and probably closer to five years what the Code allows, and he has been challenged and ignored, not to mention maligned. He has been working tirelessly to rewrite sections of the County Code so that they conform to State Code and he has been trying to eliminate ambiguity and differing interpretations of certain codes. He has been met with resistance by Commissioner Marvin and Commissioner Haines and County Attorney Delton Walker; and the Planning & Zoning Commission has been unwilling to either follow Commission Chandler’s suggested changes to the Code or, in the alternative, come up with their own language to fix the Codes.
Commissioner Haines said that fixing 39 pages of Code changes was too big for the P&Z Commissioners to tackle and that is the reason they had not made any changes. That comment by Commissioner Haines was insulting and uncalled for. P&Z Commissioners are responsible for knowing and understanding well over 100 pages of the County Code regarding Zoning, so 39 pages surely would not be too big to tackle. P&Z Commissioners have, in the past, made necessary changes to the Code either on their own or those changes suggested by County Commissioners. For whatever reasons, it is clear that the current P&Z Commissioners have been unwilling to cooperate with Commissioner Chandler. Perhaps they were told by past and current P&Z Administrators that Commissioner Chandler doesn’t know what he’s talking about or perhaps they have been advised by the County Attorney that they don’t have to make the changes proposed by Commissioner Chandler. It is important to note here that the supervisor of the County Planning & Zoning Commission is the Board of County Commissioners and that the P&Z Commissioners are appointed by the County Commissioners.
The bottom line is that the County is digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole and no one seems to have sense enough to put down the shovels.
Now the County will have the fallout from this debacle to contend with, such as the many landowners who previously applied for building permits on 20 acres and were told by then Planning & Zoning Administrator Chad Brock that they could not get a building permit.
If every one of the Planning & Zoning Commissioners was wrong on the Lancaster matter, then they should be replaced, or, in the alternative, the Planning & Zoning Commission should be done away with or all of the P&Z Commissioners need to be “educated/trained.”
If the County Attorney Delton Walker was wrong in his interpretation of the Code and had to get outside counsel to explain it to him, then he should be replaced. The legal phrase, “ineffective assistance of counsel” applies here.
If Commissioner Marvin and Commissioner Haines were both wrong in their interpretation of the Code, in spite of Commissioner Chandler’s repeated attempts to educate them on it, then they should be replaced.
Commissioner Marvin, Commissioner Haines, County Attorney Delton Walker and the entire Planning & Zoning Commission all have my vote of no confidence!