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Carriss wants zoning proposal studied, amended

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By Gayle Deaton

Magistrate Tony Carriss hasn't given up on finding some way to allow land-locked farmers to give as many as three tracts of land to their adult children.

Carriss and the other members of fiscal court's legislative committee met earlier this week to discuss amending an earlier zoning proposal that drew heavy criticism from planning and zoning officials as well as from Magistrate Betty Curtsinger.

During last month's fiscal court meeting, Magistrate Curtsinger noted Carriss's grandparents owned a land-locked farm off Martin Nethery Road (that has since passed to his mother), and called for a code of ethics review on whether Carriss has a conflict of interest in pushing for an amendment to change the zoning regulation. Carriss said he was offended by the remark and maintained his only interest in an amendment to zoning regulations is allowing land-locked farmers to get the option of giving a tract of land to as many as three of their adult children. The idea behind the proposal is that it could help keep more family farms from being sold or divided, Carriss said, because adult children could live on the farm and help their aging parents keep things up and running. Carriss presented a modification of the original proposal that would require the person who owns the farm have used it as his or her primary residence for at least 10 years before being eligible to utilize this zoning ordinance. Magistrates Hubert Pollett, Cordy Armstrong and Michael Riggs discussed Carriss's proposed amendment and agreed it would help eliminate any possible misuse of the ordinance.

Riggs, who had originally agreed it could be a good idea in theory, came out against the proposal at September's court meeting after he heard Planning and Zoning officials estimate the zoning ordinance could apply to as many as 1,500 properties. That would mean there could be as many as 4,500 new homes added, creating a complete zoning classification.

However, Carriss said he believes the number of farmers affected by the proposed ordinance would be far fewer. The requirements that the farm owner has lived on the property as a primary residence and that there haven't been any divisions on the property since 1961 would eliminate a majority of the 1,500 properties Planning and Zoning listed as having 42 acres or more in Shelby County. Riggs said if that is true, he wouldn't have a problem supporting the zoning ordinance.

The problem is, neither Planning and Zoning nor the Property Valuation Administrator's Office can run figures with specifics such as who has lived on their farms for 10 years and which farms haven't been divided since 1961. That information has to be gathered by hand by examining information one property plat at a time.

Carriss, Pollett, Riggs and Armstrong agreed fiscal court needs to hire someone to examine the 1,500 properties on the original list and find the actual number of farms that would meet the criteria of the ordinance before moving further on the issue.

It shouldn't be a costly project, Riggs said, and it shouldn't be difficult, just a bit time-consuming to do it by hand.

Carriss also cited a letter from Steve Wortham, executive director of Emergency Medical Services for the county, that said as long as the easements were large enough, access to the property would be doable from his agency's standpoint.

The Triple S Planning and Zoning Commission has voted against the proposal twice citing several reasons: Public safety and welfare; the ability of emergency services to access lots created off an easement on landlocked property; maintenance and snow removal of the easement; likelihood of problems with titles; creation of building lots without road frontage; and creating lots without road frontage which is not in keeping with zoning regulations.

Riggs said he expects the court to hire someone to gather the information by hand or accept a qualified and interested volunteer to do the work, which will be presented at the next fiscal court meeting.