County planning rule sparks debate

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By Robert Allen

The Gadsden County Commissioners met for a regular meeting June 3. Extensive discussion of the Citizen’s Growth Management and Planning Bill of Rights ensued. 

Commissioner Sherrie Taylor said she initially voted for the bill because citizens should be kept informed about the possibility of commercial developments in their neighborhoods before the businesses break ground. Taylor also said, at the time, three commissioners were running the county via the power of their three-vote majority. 

“I mean three votes and it’s gone,” said Taylor. “I didn’t appreciate that.”

During a later Times interview with Chairman Eric Hinson, he said the bill demands a super-majority vote of 4-1 for certain developments to be permitted in the county. He also said this vote can occur months after a business already begins investing in Gadsden County. 

This means specific developments can be effectively barred from operating in Gadsden County — even after successfully navigating through the county’s Zoning and Planning committee requirements.

During the meeting, Hinson said he didn’t think the bill was completely bad, citing environmental concerns. 

“We need to go back and just tweak some things and put it in a position where it can be helpful to the community and economic development,” he said. “That’s what I think.” 

During a separate Times interview, Commissioner Brenda Holt said if the bill is merely adjusted and not repealed outright, businesses are likely to say, “We’ve already looked at that — and we’re not coming to Gadsden County.” 

Holt also explained the bill’s implications extend beyond business.

“If you have 39 acres, you’re 1 acre short of being able to build two houses — that’s how weird it is,” said Holt, referring to how the bill can dictate what families do or don’t do with their private property. 

Several members of the Gadsden County community attended the June 3 meeting to voice views on the topic. 

Arrie Battle of Quincy asked the board if the issue could be placed on a future ballot for a direct vote from the people. She also asked if any other counties had similar bills. 

Hinson said the St. Johns and Martin counties have adopted similar documents. 

City Attorney David Weiss answered Battle’s second question. He said citizens could petition commissioners to take a particular action regarding the bill — but the document could not be place on a ballot for a popular vote. 

Sam Palmer, also of Quincy, asked commissioners to repeal the bill, explaining he saw it as detrimental to the development of the county. Palmer spoke again, later in the discussion. He told the board he was sure litigation would follow if the bill were not repealed. 

Marion Lasley of Quincy argued that many residents are in favor of the bill. 

During the meeting, Holt summarized the situation. She said she saw three possible paths forward: the people petition the board, the people sue the board, or the commissioners repeal the bill. 

No motion was made; the matter remains unresolved.