By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — Like most rural areas in Indiana, when Daviess County officials first began talking about putting countywide zoning in place the idea had very little support. The county took the steps as I-69 opened in an attempt to control development around the exits along the new interstate. Officials first considered trying to zone only those areas around the exits but found they could not legally do spot zoning. So, at the first of the year new zoning maps were put into place, a board of zoning appeals was seated, and new procedures were adopted for people looking to build and develop in the county.
Countywide zoning is now in its sixth month and officials say the public appears to have accepted the changes.
“We had some calls early on from people complaining about it, but those people didn’t understand the rules,” said County Commissioners President Tony Wichman. “Once they got an explanation they stopped complaining.”
For the most part, the rural areas of Daviess County are zoned residential, with exceptions in place for businesses and operations that were established before the new maps were adopted. “It was our intent to not be a burden,” said President of the Daviess County Advisory Plan Commission Dennis Helms. “It seems to be working as planned.”
With Montgomery and Washington having their own zoning codes, the county decided it needed to make the new system simple for people to apply for permits or to find out whether they might need to seek special exceptions or variances. The county worked out an agreement with the city of Washington to make the City Building Inspector’s Office the point of first contact. “That appears to have settled out well,” said Helms. “Everyone is contacting them about the permits and picking up their packages.”
“As far as I know, that system is working smoothly,” said Wichman. “I’ve not heard any negatives from the city or the inspector’s office.”
Since no one knew how much work the new county zoning laws would create, officials with the city and county decided to work on it for six months under a flat fee and then review the impact it was creating. That review has not yet begun, but will be happening soon.
“We have not had those discussions yet,” said Helms. “We’ll start looking more closely at that at the end of the month.”
The new laws have forced people to make some adjustments including the commissioners. “For years we have received notices from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Environmental Protection Agency when they approved permits for projects in the county,” said Wichman. “Now we forward those to the zoning board to make certain they have the proper local permits. We have had six or eight of those since the first of the year.”
Most of those permits concern proposals for constructing confined feeding operations. Daviess County’s ordinances allow for the construction of those facilities, but they also require a local permit with provisions that adjoining property owners be notified about the project. Local officials say the idea is to give neighbors a forum and look for ways to perhaps adjust where a project might go on a piece of property to avoid future problems. Daviess County officials say they are expecting a lot more requests for CFO’s in the near future.
“I think because of the new Farbest Plant in Knox County we will see a run on applications for those,” said Wichman.
With the new maps, now at six months planning and zoning may not necessarily be a hit, but it appears to be working. “Up to now I haven’t really heard any complaints,” said Helms.
“There’s a reason for the codes,” added Wichman. “I think it’s going pretty good.”