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Gadsden commissioners again fail to amend Citizens’ Bill of Rights

Following a long line of impassioned speeches on both sides of the issue, an ordinance amending Gadsden County’s Citizens’ Bill of Rights, failed at the County Commission meeting May 15.

This is the second time a weakening of the Citizens’ Bill of Rights has failed before the county commission in the past two years and about the fifth time since the ordinance was adopted in 2010.

Commissioners Sherrie Taylor (District 5) and Gene Morgan (District 3) staunchly opposed the amendment. Commission Chair Brenda Holt (District 4), Vice Chair Anthony Viegbesie (District 2) and Eric Hinson (District 1) supported it. The county requires a 4-1 super-majority to make changes to the land development code.

This super-majority provision is one of the most divisive issues regarding the Bill of Rights. Allara Mills Gutcher, the county’s land-use planning consultant and former planning and community development director, developed the amendment and explained her reasoning.

Gutcher said developers have complained about the county’s restrictive land use policies. She said these policies hurt the county’s development opportunities. Gutcher called for a repeal of the super-majority clause, which she said scares away developers. Gutcher said few communities in the state have similar restrictions.

Most speakers at the meeting supported the amendment. Commissioner Taylor gave a passionate defense of the Citizens’ Bill of Rights as-is, saying numerous projects in Gadsden County in recent years prove the current Citizens’ Bill of Rights is not a hindrance to development.

“Our citizens have a right to know what is coming and a right to not have three commissioners control development in the county,” Taylor said. “A lot of people don’t understand what the Citizens’ Bill of Rights is all about. People need to be careful about giving up their rights.”

Morgan spoke after Taylor and expressed his opposition to the ordinance, as well, making clear the amendment would fail. Chair Brenda Holt was strongly in favor of the amendment.

“Despite what was said, you can’t look at all the projects you are still getting through in spite of the Citizens’ Bill of Rights, but you must project how many more developers are not even contacting the county because of these restrictive guidelines,” Holt said.

Commissioners will attempt to reach a consensus at a special workshop June 21. The print edition of The Herald reported a special meeting scheduled July 19, but after the print edition was published commissioners cancelled the July 19 meeting in favor of the June 21 workshop.

Randall Lieberman