City planning commission given unfair task

The Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission was put in an uncomfortable and unfair situation this week.

Uncomfortable situations come with the territory when one volunteers to serve on a planning and zoning commission. Land-use decisions often are contentious matters.

But what made Monday’s meeting graduate from uncomfortable to unfair came when commissioners were asked to become arbitrators of a conflict between city Community Development Director Jerry Owen and Fire Chief Mike Casson.

Owen was pushing for approval of a new subdivision ordinance with 28-foot street widths with parking on both sides of the street. Casson said that violates both the state fire code and city ordinance as emergency vehicles require a minimum of 20 feet of maneuverability.

The dispute may have come as a surprise to planning commissioners, but not to Casson and Owen. Each was aware the other had a problem with the street-width proposal within the subdivision regulation. Both were aware the difference of opinion/interpretation of the law could have been resolved with a review by the town’s legal staff.

Instead, it went to P&Z, a group of volunteer citizens charged with making common sense decisions and recommendations to the city council on land use issues. The Planning and Zoning Commission is not a group charged with making legal decisions. It is not a group responsible for being the middle man in a dispute between two city department heads.

This is an issue that should have been resolved at the staff level. If a legal difference of opinion represents the crux of the conflict, that is what the city has lawyers for.

What happened Monday was unfair. Planning commissioners were asked to step well outside the role for which they volunteered their time and service.

If that ever becomes the norm, the city should not be surprised to find volunteers in short supply.

— Dan Engler

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