The Nelson County Planning Commission currently is taking a monthslong hiatus from its regularly scheduled meetings.
Scheduled to meet the last Wednesday of every month, the last meeting the commission held was in January and with the current COVID-19 pandemic, the board is not scheduled to meet again until at least June.
The Nelson County Board of Supervisors on March 26 passed an emergency ordinance allowing government meetings to be held electronically.
Director of Planning and Zoning Dylan Bishop said in an email because of budget restrictions and leeway in the ordinance passed by supervisors, many current planning commission land use and zoning items can be put on hold while the situation with the novel coronavirus pandemic develops and more information becomes available.
She said uncertainty caused by the pandemic going forward has caused many citizens and developers to put their projects on hold. As a result, Bishop said there have been no official applications for public hearings or other items needing the planning commission’s review.
“A whole lot of folks have been impacted by the COVID-19 problem, so a lot of people have stalled anyway,” head of the planning commission Mark Stapleton said. He took over as chairman in January.
The only public hearing on the commission’s docket is a pending Verizon cell tower, which the commission will hear once normal operations resume. Other items on the commission’s radar include ordinances involving nonconfroming structures in Nelson County as well as solar energy.
However, Stapleton said the commission is available to hear any requests that demand immediate action, but so far that hasn’t been necessary.
“I’m satisfied we haven’t left anyone hanging and I’m satisfied we can be flexible to meet if anybody needs us to,” Stapleton said.
Currently, he is brainstorming different ways a public hearing could be held, including limiting the number of people who can physically attend and keeping people at a minimum distance. He said he still has a few weeks’ time to decide whether or not to hold a June meeting as well.
“The challenge is how do you handle a meeting when you need to be able to afford the public access,” Stapleton said. “That’s a good question for everybody right now.”
Among the current projects being put on hold is the comprehensive plan for the county, which is a planning document used to map out future growth and goals for development.
According to Stapleton, the document should also reflect the intent of the political leadership and to reflect “what the county wants to be.”
The update to the comprehensive plan was on the commission’s to-do list and still is, but Bishop said the project is “on the backburner” after county staff proposed removing funding from the project to help offset the costs of the tax relief measure passed by supervisors in April relieving residents from paying personal property taxes for the first half of the year.
Staff had eyed a more substantial update to the county’s comprehensive plan. Bishop said staff was drafting a request for proposals in order to bring on a consultant to help to that end. The county budget had contained $25,000 for the project.
“The money obviously evaporated for higher priority county needs and i understand that,” Stapleton said.
With the funds no longer available, Bishop said the department is taking a step back and looking at what can be done now before a consultant can be put back on the table. She said the work being done now could help offset some costs in the future.
“I can’t say anything certain for now. My hope is to have it on the docket for next year,” Bishop said.
Stapleton said the current pandemic crisis should be incorporated into the comprehensive plan as a way of potentially anticipating the as-of-yet unknown economic impacts felt by the virus.
“That’s sort of a dream state thing for me, but if we’re going to sit back and look at the [comprehensive plan] we should certainly incorporate current events,” Stapleton said.
In the meantime, staff will be reviewing the plan as well as collecting feedback from the planning commission and other stakeholders.
State code requires the comprehensive plan be updated every five years. The last update it had received was in 2014. Bishop said the county did perform a review of the document in 2019, but that a more substantial review is needed.
Stapleton agreed, noting the document in its current state is still effective.
“It needs a full review and revision and it merits a study and a professional approach; that said, we can make some changes and have it be effective,” Stapleton said.
Nick Cropper covers Nelson County. Reach him at (434) 385-5522.