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Seven public hearings dominate commission meeting

Seven public hearings dominated the business of the Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday, July 17.

The big ticket items were the Citizens’ Bill of Rights and a sand mining project proposal (see separate articles elsewhere in The Herald). Of the other five public hearings heard at the meeting, two were on the Highlands and Stoddard Overlay District and three were on updates to the county’s Land Use Comprehensive Plan.

Quincy project denied over too many septic tanks
Two of the public hearings before the commission on July 17 regarded an approximately 284-acre area on the southern end of Carmen Maria Lane, and also between McCall Bridge Road and Lakeview Point Road, both south of Quincy, known as the Highlands and Stoddard Overlay District.

The applicants, Capital City Bank (for the 25.25-acre parcel at the southern end of Carmen Maria Lane) and the Burness Family (for parcels of 25.57 and 233.44 acres between McCall Bridge Road and Lakeview Point Road) were trying to get the county commission to transmit to the various state agencies a proposal to change the zoning for their properties from Rural Residential to Agriculture 1.

Under its current Rural Residential designation, the property owners would need to build a very costly sewage treatment plant in order to sell one-acre lots on these properties.  Under an Agricultural 1 designation, however, the owners could build septic tanks to deal with waste removal for each 5-acre lot it could sell.

The addition of as many as 56 septic tanks to an area with approximately 56.84 acres of wetlands concerned a number of the commissioners due to its potential negative environmental impact. So when Commissioner Sherrie Taylor made a motion to submit this zoning change to the state agencies for approval, Commission Chair Brenda Holt approved the motion but Commission Vice-Chair Anthony Viegbesie and Commissioner Gene Morgan did not.

Commissioner Eric Hinson was not present for this vote, which failed for the lack of four votes needed for the required super-majority of the commissioners.

In a related issue, the same applicants also were requesting to submit to the state agencies an amendment of the county’s Future Land Use Element Policy and one of the maps of the county’s Comprehensive Plan to help them sell lots on their land. A motion to not approve this amendment carried the commission, three votes to one.

Taylor, whose district the project is in, said she hoped these developers do not stop and work to come back to the county’s Planning Commission and County Commission with a better plan for the property. Taylor suggested the developers look to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for grant money to build a sewer system.

Three Comprehensive Plan changes pass unanimously
In three other public hearings that invited no comment from the audience, the Gadsden County Commission at its July 17 meeting unanimously passed three motions to send updates to the county’s Land Use Comprehensive Plan to a host of state agencies for review. The changes to the county’s Comprehensive Plan were: Amending the Traffic Circulation Element; Amending the Conservation Element; and Removing the Concurrency Management  Element.

All were drafted by Allara Gutcher, the county’s land use consultant. Following review and any suggestions by the state agencies, these amendments/deletions will come back before the county commission for approval as ordinances.

To see the exact wording of these amendments, refer to the agenda for  the July 17 Gadsden County Commission meeting at

County lobbyist firm discussed
Another issue that came up for discussion at the July 17 meeting was the services of the county’s state lobbyist. Currently, the county’s contracted lobbying firm is Lawson & Associates for an annual contract of  $25,000, which expires September 30.

Commissioner Anthony Viegbesie said he would like to add another team to Lawson and Associates to become more effective in lobbying, since that firm is not as effective and productive as it should be with Congressman Al Lawson having to spend so much time in Washington, D.C.  Commissioner Gene Morgan agreed with Viegbesie’s assessment, and added that, due to budget constraints, the county’s lobbying contract next year may have to be for a lot less money than this past year.

The commission approved a motion to put this item on the agenda at its next meeting to decide whether or not to put its lobbying contract up for bid or to simply renew its contract with Lawson and Associates. Grant accepted to help county with election cybersecurity The commission also approved a motion to accept the Gadsden County Election Security Grant.

This grant is for $78,766.82 from the Florida Department of State Division of Elections to the Gadsden County Supervisor of Elections to be used for the 2018 primary and general federal elections.  Purposes of the grant are to: Strengthen the implementation of cybersecurity of election systems; Enhance election technology;  Facilitate cybersecurity training for local election officials; and Upgrade election-related computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities.

“Gadsden County must continue voting fairly and honestly,” stated Interim County Administrator Dee Jackson. “This is what makes democracy in our country, state and county strong. Therefore, the upgrading of voting equipment and securing our voter registration files against hackers is of utmost importance.”

By Randall Lieberman