BUCKEYE LAKE- Monday night, Buckeye Lake Village Council approved the appointment of a new member to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Debora Julian will fill the seat vacated by John Hanson who resigned in late September. Julian is the Senior Vice President and Regional Manager for the In-Store Division of U.S. Bank overseeing over 100 locations in Ohio, Northern Kentucky, Louisville and Knoxville.
The council chamber was nearly standing room only as planning commission chair Karen Cookston and council faced off for a lively exchange. Council members said they were not “bashing” the Buckeye Lake Planning Commission when they asked for regular minutes from the commission and asked commission members to attend a council meeting. However, Cookston said commission members work hard to fulfill their duties, but the village has not provided the commission the resources it needs to meet all that’s demanded of the commission.
Cookston said commission members are volunteers. “While we are not voted into office, we have no other agenda than to do the best thing for our village,” she said. Cookston said that during the previous council meeting, council member Tom Wolfe requested planning commission members attend a meeting, but no one asked the members to attend directly. She only knew about it through a local news story. “Communication is really important,”
Cookston said, and learning of such things through local media or hearing about it on a recording of a council meeting is not how communication between village entities should be handled. “That’s really a poor way for me to find out,” she said.
Cookston said in the past village council members, such as the council president or community development committee chair, attended planning commission meetings and reported back to council.
Council President Kitty Zwissler said the village charter states that the planning commission should provide regular minutes to the council.
Cookston said there are no rules about who should attend planning commission meetings, but that’s just the way it’s been done in the past. She said the village charter stipulates that the village hires a development director to assist the planning commission. “We haven’t had one since 2010,” Cookston said. The development director, among other duties, is to act as a liaison between the council and the planning commission. “You’ve had different volunteers who have stepped in and arranged files. For two years, we had no files. To even give you a report? The files were not even in a fashion where they could’ve been managed,” Cookston said. She said planning commission members have been doing “a lot of things not in their purview.”
Cookston said the commission uses the International Zoning Code, not because they are unwilling to create a Buckeye Lake Village specific code, but because some regulations, such as flood plain and subdivision, are too complex for a small volunteer organization to manage and adopting the International Zoning Code allows the commission to turn that work over to Licking County. She said the planning commission does work to create village-specific zoning.
“The whole issue is, a lot of us are getting a lot of calls about what’s going on with planning and zoning,” Zwissler said, and council members are simply interested in creating a process where council receives minutes from planning commission meetings in a timely manner. If the planning commission requires legal counsel, Zwissler would like for council member to be made aware of that as well. Cookston said that during the previous council meeting, council member Peggy Wells said the planning commission was not making progress. “We’ve been doing our job,” Cookston said, and she said she disagrees with several statements made during the previous meeting.
“We don’t have money for a development director,” Zwissler said. “All we want to do is get the information from you in a timely manner so we are informed.” She said council needs to be educated, the process needs to be transparent, and the community needs to know what’s happening.
Cookston said she’s been planning commission chair for a long time, and outside of former council president Charlene Hayden, the commission has never been asked to produce a report. “That has never happened,” Cookston said.
Zwissler said the commission shouldn’t need to be asked because the village charter states a report is necessary. “That’s all we want,” she said.
Cookston said the charter also states the planning commission should have help. “We’ve had zero resources to do our job,” she said. “Your planning commission has been working triple time,” and filling in where needed.
Wolfe said there’s been discussion about finding a way to hire a clerk to help the commission. “If you need some financial resources, it would be good to let us know,” he said.
“We absolutely do,” Cookston said. She said planning commission members work very hard and she believes they’ve been “slandered” in the media. Cookston said Wells is the only council member to attend commission meetings and no one has offered to help. “I would love to work with you all,” she said.
Wells was clear that she never said the planning commission isn’t doing anything. She said the charter provides for the commission to review its five-year plan and everything the commission does is to be based on that plan. “I wonder how long it’s been since each member has seen the five-year plan,” Wells said.
“It would be about five meetings ago,” Cookston said.
Wells said she reviewed planning commission minutes from the last two years and saw no mention of the five-year plan.
“Did you listen to all the CDs?” Cookston asked.
Wells said, “No, but minutes are supposed to hit the highlights and since a review of the five-year plan is a requirement of the charter, it should be significant enough to be in the minutes.” Wells said she didn’t see many references to property maintenance code. “That’s where I didn’t see any progress,” she said. “I think you overstated my criticism.”
Wells said the binder in the village office that holds the planning commission’s printed minutes is six months behind and some months are missing. Some minutes are still in electronic form. “Legally, it could be a big problem for us,” she said. “It isn’t a personal thing at all, but it’s tough from a legal perspective.”
Wells said in a memo to council, “On numerous occasions throughout 2016, council members have expressed an interest in better communication from the planning commission. I wanted to copy and review the 2015 and 2016 minutes in an attempt to educate myself on the operations of the planning commission.”
“Last week, I requested copies of the 2016 minutes from (Council Clerk Valerie Hans). When I reviewed the 3-ring binder at the village office, the last entry was May.”
“There were no minutes available in this binder for the public to view regarding the last six months of village business conducted by the planning commission.”
Wells concluded, “Valerie readily provided copies of the minutes in the binder and also clarified it’s up to the planning commission to keep their binder current. She also printed off emailed copies of additional minutes that were unsigned and some may still be draft minutes if they haven’t been approved.” Wells submitted a three-page report to council on what she viewed as deficiencies in the minutes.
Cookston said planning commission members are working on the minutes as best they can. “No one came to ask us if we need help,” she said.
“Maybe no one called because it wasn’t time to call you yet,” said council member Robert Masone. He said minutes are a legal fundamental. “It’s not an issue until it becomes an issue. Kitty’s getting calls, so now it’s an issue,” Masone said. “All we want now is to begin getting good minutes from you; they’re so important. That’s the spirit we’re intending. Not mean spirited, just getting things organized. We just want to work together to get the information in place.”
Several council members told Cookston the planning commission is appreciated.
Cookston said the commission members want to work with council and the mayor, but resources are so tight that they feel as though they spend all their time just “covering their butts.” She said she’s had a difficult time filling an open position on the commission because people don’t want to deal with council members or the local media. Cookston doesn’t believe there is a spirit of working together and council members make public statements criticizing other village employees or departments before contacting those employees or departments directly.
Masone said council member Tim Ryan was following the process when he discussed ODNR trying to influence zoning permits for North bank Road residents near the dam. Masone said Ryan hoped to bring the issue to Mayor Clay Carroll’s attention, but Carroll was absent from that meeting. Masone said council meetings are a place for council members to share concerns.
Wolfe said he believes Carroll would be at the previous meeting as well and he didn’t believe the council was in any way “bashing” the planning commission.
Zwissler said she contacted an ODNR representative who was willing to help resolve the permit issue. It was only an issue of the village being caught in the middle.
Cookston was clear commission members are updating the village’s planning and zoning rules, and working with Licking County to adapt regulations for the village.
Wells said the charter states the planning commission should discuss who will be commission chair each year. Cookston said the commission does so.
Wells confirmed that she would like to see a change of leadership on the planning commission. She told Cookston she appreciated her service for the past ten years but it would be great if the members would trade seats occasionally. Wells said, “Sometimes a leader can be so strong that others don’t feel like they can raise their hand to volunteer to take a turn at the leadership role. Changing leadership in any organization is a healthy thing,” Wells said, adding that her comment was not a statement against Cookston. It would be good to provide other commission members an opportunity to be chair. “I think we have other good leaders on that planning commission,” Wells said.
In other village news:
• Since Carroll was absent from the last council meeting, he read a lengthy statement addressing some of the issues discussed at the meeting as well as some of his thoughts as 2016 comes to an end. According to his statement: “There are many issues all involving the dam. Construction near the dam has been the most recent one brought up. Let me first remind everyone that there is approximately 3,000 people located in the inundation area of the dam, many of whom are within our village. I think some of our council members have forgotten that we are to think of all of them, not just our close friends.
“Our zoning regulation states in Section 805 (WR), ‘The Village of Buckeye Lake requires that zoning permit applications follow all current ODNR professional and safety guidelines regarding building in the dam area of the levee.’ This has been a zoning regulation for many years. One of the first projects brought to my attention was located on Crane Lake. On this project, ODNR recommended that any construction be kept 15 feet away from the toe of the dam. This recommendation was discussed with the village solicitor who advised me that it would be in the best interest of the village to try to adhere to the recommendation. Failure to do so could leave the resident or the village responsible for future repair costs if any were needed.
“Approximately three and a half weeks ago (11/21/16) our zoning officer and I met and he informed me that there were a few residents wanting to do some projects on properties adjacent to the dam where improvements have been started. He was concerned that the engineer (Mr. George) who has been assigned as the ‘dam tender’ and whom the zoning officer had been directed to communicate with on such projects, was either not being clear in his recommendations or was over extending the buffer zone from the dam.
“I then contacted Jason Wesley with ODNR, explained our concerns and asked that he pass this along and get us better direction similar to the Crane Lake project.
“On Nov. 30 (9 days) I had a conference call with John Wesley and (ODNR representative) Mark Anthony, during which we came up with some guidelines that our zoning officer can use when completing zoning permits.
• If work is to take place within eight feet of the toe, an ODNR engineer would like to see an application and engineering drawings to make recommendations.
• If the work is outside eight feet and nothing raises concerns, ODNR would like a copy of the drawings and permit that was issued.
• If something causes concern to zoning, then ODNR will review the drawings and make a recommendation before the zoning permit is issued. I’ve had recent conversation and ODNR is working on documentation to support these guidelines.
“Over the past several months a few members of this council have gone to great lengths to cast aspersions on myself and various village staff members. For example, there was a comment made that I had a covert plan to build a new building at the water tower site. This has been a topic of discussion for years with previous administrations. I spoke with a couple of council members about finding out what the property at the current location would be worth and what the process would be to get an idea of what a new building would cost. Just because one council member wasn’t included in the discussion they have repeatedly said I couldn’t be trusted.
“Many times myself and at least one council member have been scorned about having discussions with someone and not sharing with council. I find this ironic, we all know there’s a time and a place for everything. For example, at a finance meeting in November Council Member Wolfe said they were glad that no one from the press or public was there because they didn’t want anyone else to hear what they had to say. And then, earlier this year Council Member Wells was informed that the village could get equipment for the skate park from Newark for free or at a very low cost. It was declined without any discussion with the Parks and Recreation Commission, council, or myself.
“My point is this: I hope in the coming year these council members will accept a few things:
• We are all confronted with different ideas from time to time. Some get passed along and shared but others don’t go beyond the starting gate. It’s no different when I do it than when they do it. We are all trying to do what is best.
• We have a great staff, all of whom are asked to do more than their share.
Quit tying them up with busy work trying to uncover some conspiracy going on that doesn’t exist. Quit jumping to conclusions and making accusations – ask first.
“Happy holidays,” Carroll said.
• Carroll said the Ohio 79 crosswalk near the Post Office is completed and operational.
Wells explained that the free skatepark ramp was too large, in poor condition and unsafe. However, she apologized for not bringing the offer to council.
Planning Commission members Richard Smith, Matt Simon and Sherry Powell also addressed council about their perceptions and interest of joining together with council to work toward future progress. Other Commission members present were Staci McCloud, Tom Heisey and newly appointed Debora Julian.