Director hopes Junction will one day rejoin P&Z

Published 7:25 am Saturday, December 16, 2017

JUNCTION CITY — Despite not participating with the Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning Commission, the Junction City Council got a visit from Director Steve Hunter Thursday night.

“I wanted to come tell you that I’m here. I really do work for the whole county. I understand planning and zoning in the small cities and the big cities,” Hunter said.

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Junction City withdrew from Planning and Zoning in 2009. In spite of that, Hunter said he wants to work with the city, if possible.

“I hope I can work with you guys. I would love to be director for you, too, if you saw fit,” Hunter said, but said he didn’t want to try to push the city to come back to the commission. “I don’t know the history. Someday I really do want to understand what all happened.”

Since arriving, Hunter has been making some changes. He’s created a list of things to get done, which he shared with the council. He’s lowered some of the fees to prices he considers fair and more comparable to other cities in the state.

He said he has been asked about changing zoning permit fees. For now, those will stay the same, Hunter said, as those are the biggest way P&Z funds itself.

“We’re going to talk about those. The planning commission has made me understand that we might be able to lower those fees if we can find a way to fund the planning commission differently. Right now, it would have been too difficult to lower those,” he said.

Hunter said he has plans to review some of P&Z’s ordinances and regulations, in an effort to make things easier for people.

“I don’t want to be critical of things in our county, but our zoning ordinance is very dated,” Hunter said. “And our comprehensive plan has a few things I think need to be changed. But our subdivision regs are ancient.”

Mayor Jim Douglas agreed, as Hunter continued. He said he wanted to make the plat process and the zoning ordinance simpler.

“The zoning ordinance was written, I think, back in the day, honestly, for Danville. It doesn’t feel like it would fit a town like your town or Perryville. It really doesn’t work well in the county, in certain areas,” Hunter said. “I’m digging into the zoning ordinance … I’m going to propose the zoning ordinance be rewritten.”

He said it might need to be a slightly different ordinance for each area, instead of a one-size-fits-all type.

Hunter asked if the council had any questions or thoughts. Some commended the changes. Others commented that, in the past, P&Z had been less than helpful.

“It always seemed more of a hindrance to get something done,” said council member Pete Kendrick.

Hunter said he didn’t want things to be that way, but instead he wants the staff to take time with people who come there for help. He told the council that he had even gotten rid of pamphlets with applications that are handed to people because he wanted to be able to talk them through the process.

“Passing a pamphlet out and an application and saying, ‘Hey, it’s $280 bucks, holler at us when you’re ready’ — people don’t come away happy,” Hunter said. “This stuff’s complicated. You’ve got to walk them in, show them the variance. Show them the fee … I think the days of pushing pamphlets out the windows — it feels too regulatory for me.”

Hunter said P&Z has also gotten rid of pink laminated zoning-change signs.

“We’re trying to bring people in the office, sit down. If you’ve got an issue, we’ll talk with you,” Hunter said.

Council member Kenny Baldwin said he would like to see everything more consistent for every property owner than it had been in the past. Hunter said consistency would be a goal of his, as well

“You’ve got to treat people fair, you’ve got to be uniform, or it’s just going to backfire,” Hunter said. “I understand, I didn’t adopt these ordinances and if that’s our rules we’ve got to sort of follow them. But I think right now, we’ve got to fix some of the books.”

He said he didn’t want the P&Z process to be tense for people.

“This is complicated stuff … At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember, that is their property,” Hunter said. “I tell my staff, ‘If someone comes in and they’re getting a building permit to put an addition on their house, it’s the biggest thing going on in their life. For us to just brush it off like they’re bothering us or it’s not a big deal — a zone change, or someone dropping $275, it’s a big deal. Just treat them right.’”

Hunter said he didn’t want to push, but he did hope that someday Junction City would reconsider joining the Planning and Zoning Commission again. He understands it might take time.

“Down the road, if we can get back together, that’d be great to me. I think it’s important that Junction be in. You all are the front door to the county. We’re on a main road. I think it’s important that we want to work together,” Hunter said. “But we have to figure out what’s best for Junction and what’s best for Danville. This one-size-fits-all is not going to work in this county.”