By Kathi Bliss
A “variance” is defined as an official permit to do something normally forbidden by regulations, especially by building in a way or for a purpose normally forbidden by building law or code.
That word, “variance,” became the source of high tension during the regular meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court on Monday morning.
Historically, property owners have come to the Commissioners requesting “variances” allowing them to sell portions of their property. As a matter of course, those variances have been approved with little or no hesitation.
That all changed on Monday.
With the advent of the County’s new development ordinance and subdivision rules, the old manner of granting variances no longer applies. The new ordinance, approved last month by the Court in a split vote, spells out specific procedures addressing such situations.
Therefore, when a property owner came forward with a second request for a variance – her first request was made prior to the passage of the new rules, but denied at that time because the actual amount of property she intended to sell was unclear – the Court hesitated before granting the request.
According to Commissioner Fred Buchholtz, who has agreed to review the newly-adopted ordinance and work with area stakeholders to simplify and possibly make changes to the bulky document, a variance would not be necessary in that property owner’s situation. What’s more, he said, not only was it unnecessary, but it would have been improper to grant it, because the situation – cutting a portion of her existing block of land away from the whole, with its own septic and public road frontage – did not qualify for a “variance.”
The resistance, Buchholtz said, could not be construed as a desire by the Court to disallow the sale. Rather, he said, the County should follow the rules they put in place, and should help the property owner to follow those rules.
The property owner, and one other who requested a similar variance, was asked to work with county staff to determine the best way to achieve the goal, most likely a “short form plat,” in compliance with the new rules.
Judge Tom Bonn called the situation a “growing pain,” and apologized to the landowners for having been the first to come forward requesting variances under the new rules, and committed to helping the property owners however possible to complete sales under the new rules.
As illustrated in the public comments of longtime survey professional Dave Moore, much of the argument stemmed from semantics, particularly in the use of the word “plat.” “Platting,” he said, is a blanket term used by the surveying industry to describe the drawings and measurements included in a survey. A “subdivision plat,” on the other hand, is the legal document filed in the County Clerk’s Office describing the property. While a property may have been surveyed and sketched, the “plat” might not have been filed – therefore creating the confusion.
Commissioner Joe Roland balked at the idea of refusing the variances, suggesting that the Court should continue on as they always have, allowing owners to sell their land as they see fit and granting variances to make those allowances. He voted against refusing the variances and asking the property owners to work with county staff to make their property divisions within the rules currently in place.
The other Commissioners voted in favor of the measure.
In a related item, Buchholtz presented an update on his review of the Development Ordinance, presenting to the Court among other things, a series of checklists intended to smooth the process for property owners.
He also said he was eyeing a number of changes, mostly in verbiage, to the ordinance, and would come back to the Court soon with another update of his progress.
It is important to note, according to Buchholtz, that his suggestions are only those – suggestions. None of the changes he has suggested have been made to the ordinance, and those changes will not be made without a majority vote from the Court.
In other business:
The Court approved the sale of nine tracts of land at tax resale auction. The properties, seized in the past for unpaid taxes, were purchased at a discounted rate by new owners, and legal counsel for the County encouraged approving the sales, even at a loss to the County, to return those properties to the tax rolls.
They approved a number of “housekeeping” items, including approval of continuing education certificates for Bonn and for County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa.
The County will soon arm bailiffs in the Caldwell County Courthouse with Tazers. The request, made by Judges Todd Blomerth and Edward Jarrett, will cost around $3,600, which will be funded out of Blomerth’s District Court budget.
Blomerth confirmed there have been security concerns in both the Caldwell County Courthouse and the Caldwell County Judicial Annex, which make the purchase of the Tazers a sound decision.
They voted to keep the outdoor burning ban in place.
The Court approved proclamations declaring February both “Black History Month” and “Boy Scouts of America Month,” and designating the week of Feb. 20 – 26 as “Severe Weather Awareness Week.
The next meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011, at 9 a.m. in the conference room of the Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack Street, in Lockhart. The meeting is open to the public, and concerned citizens are encouraged to attend.