Last Update: 25 June 2006

Highland County Comprehensive Plan

The Comp Plan is not directly a wind issue but the way it is being used and misused is indicative of the present state of governance in this county. First, the Planning Commission determined that the HNWD project is “substantially in accord” with the Comp Plan, despite the lack of any mention of such a facility therein and innumerable references to preserving the county’s rural and scenic character in the plan. Now the Planning Commission, at the behest of the Board of Supervisors, is taking tight control over the revision of the plan.

The Highland Board of Supervisors held a special meeting on 8 May 2006 at which they were advised by counsel that the citizens committee, which has been studying the Comprehensive Plan since August 2004, was never officially sanctioned and that, while it is required by State Code for the Planning Commission to review the plan every five years, there is no requirement that it be totally rewritten or for citizen participation in the review. The supervisors adopted a resolution requiring that the planners submit their suggestions for amendments to the board by the end of this year. The committee is free to continue meeting and to submit its suggestions to the planners, just as any citizen may do, but without official standing. The Recorder has a more detailed report on the supervisors’ meeting.

This seems to be at odds with published news reports at the time the committee began its work, which stated that, “The committee to review Highland County’s comprehensive plan has been appointed by county officials.” At its first meeting, committee members were reminded by the county administrator, Roberta Lambert, “that as a committee appointed by county officials, their meetings are open to the public and subject to Freedom of Information Act laws.” This sounds a great deal like official sanction.

The now-deauthorized committee met on 17 May 2006 to decide what to do next. A resolution was passed requesting the Planning Commission to correct what is thought to be an omission in the minutes of the meeting at which the committee was created, effectively reauthorizing it. The Recorder has a full report on this committee meeting. The full text of the resolution is available on page 2 of the 26 May print edition but is not available on line.

The Planning Commission took up the Comp Plan matter at its regular monthly meeting on 25 May but refused to act on the request from the existing committee to be properly authorized. Instead they voted to form an entirely new committee consisting of the commissioners themselves and their hand-picked assistants. They will now start over on the review of the Comp Plan but they do hope to use the groundwork laid by the previous committee. The Recorder has a detailed report on this meeting. In addition to this article, the printed edition of 2 June 2006 carried an editiorial and a letter on this issue. The Commission will meet again on 15 June to formally establish this new committee, set rules of procedure and an agenda. Presumably they will also name the new committee members at that time or soon after.

Caroline Smith, Chair of the defunct committee, wrote the following to its members:   “Our group has been disbanded. I was disappointed that [Commission Chair] Jim Cobb was not more straightforward in saying why. It seemed to be that he couldn’t work with some of the members, that our attempts to reach consensus made us very slow and that we felt like we were the people making the final decisions about the Comprehensive Plan.
          “Jim proposed a completely new group to work on the Plan.
        “He asked the other Planning Commission members to pick two people from their geographic areas, one a ‘native’ or near and one someone who has lived here 8-10 years. In addition, he will ask Janice Warner, Roberta Lambert and Jim Whitelaw to serve as ex officio members. Jim made it very clear that the only people who will make any decisions will be the Planning Commissioners. All other people are advisors only. He asked me to serve as his ‘Executive Assistant,’ organizing material and helping him prepare documents.
        “I said I would do that, that I was very disappointed and that I hoped Planning Commission members would look at the list of our committee members when picking new people.
        “During the public comment period, Betty [Mitchell] did a magnificent job of trying to get Jim and the other planners to see the value of our work and to give an answer as to why we were treated this way. No good answer was given, and I am sure that is how it will rest.”

The new committee to advise the planners was established at a 15 June meeting, as reported in The Recorder on 23 June 2006, page 2. Five members of the original committee were appointed to the new one and a schedule of meetings was laid out with the goal of completing the review this year. All decisions will be made by Planning Commission members. The committee makeup seems to be more favorable than expected but it is strictly advisory and Chairman Jim Cobb has made it clear that wind development will not be considered until all outstanding lawsuits have been resolved. It seems highly unlikely that ridgetop development or dark sky protection will fall within the scope of this review.