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County discusses possibility of zoning

Warren County commissioners discussed the benefits of establishing zoning districts.

Commissioner Tyrone Sparkman requested the county’s consideration on possible code violations regarding how a property owner within in his district has chosen to use their property. According to the District 5 commissioner, it’s an auto repair business – which may or may not be licensed – and the vehicles are “in and out at all hours” and the noise created is continuous.

“There’s nothing on our books that covers a violation,” said Rich Thompson, county codes inspector. “Currently, we don’t have any zoning. It creates a big problem for that. We do not have any way to regulate that.” 

The discussion was held during a county Policy and Personnel Committee meeting. 

A business license is only required if annual revenue exceeds $3,000.

“He’s working on the side,” said County Executive Jimmy Haley. “We don’t know if he’s doing $3,000 worth of work or $5,000 worth of work, unless he’s reporting the income. If he’s just doing it on the side, then there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. There’s certainly nothing codes can do about it.”

The city of McMinnville began establishing its zoning districts and associated regulations in the 1950s. Pros: zoning can prevent the mixing of incompatible land uses and protect property values. It shields residential properties from commercial development, among other benefits such as regulating lot size, placement, density, and property maintenance.

“In the county, we don’t have zoning,” said Haley. “You can have a business out of your house, out of your garage or out of someone else’s business, because we don’t have zoning. Nothing is zoned commercial or residential. If you begin operating a commercial business in a residential area within the city, the codes department can come in. You can create a business in the county basically anywhere.” 

Cons of land-use regulations: all involved property owners relinquish some of their individual property freedoms for the common good, it can discourage some development in some locations, and to a certain extent, zoning limits the development potential of previously existing land uses and structures that do not conform to the zoning standards. 

Sparkman asked if the county, at a minimum, could establish property maintenance regulations, to which Haley replied, “You’d have to enact laws and establish a department to enforce them. The city has a huge codes department that takes up half of the second floor of City Hall. They have people assigned for property maintenance supervision. The city even has its own court set up for codes violations. The county doesn’t have that.” 

District 5 is not alone in the situation, a District 7 commissioner says.

“Commissioner Sparkman, I feel for you,” said Commissioner Tommy Savage. “I’ve got places that are bad in my district, too. I think every district has them.”

Sparkman asked, “How do we solve this problem? It’s not going to go away.” 

“You’d have to investigate the possibility of having a property maintenance policy adopted by the county and hire officers to enforcement it and have a court set aside,” said Haley. 

With property owners outside the city of McMinnville not accustomed to being told what to do with their property, Savage added, “It would have to be gun-toting officers.” 

The county Policy and Personnel Committee took no vote and made no motion. 

The topic was discussion only.