Madison County – A controversial project in Madison County was approved last week by the Madison County Zoning Board after more than six hours of testimony during the two-meeting hearing.
JoAnn Cahill asked for a special permit to place a group (18) of short-term rental cabins, not any one of the cabins to exceed 1,200 square feet in size, along with using the rest for farming on her approximate 50 acres of land in R-1 zoning. The property is designated as residential and agricultural. Cahill presented her case at the first meeting. Since Cahill’s project did not conform to the zoning, it needed a special permit from the board.
Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Jered Silvers once again recused himself and left the meeting, as he owned property near the proposed project. He left fellow board member Alan Wyatt to act as chairman and just enough board members for a quorum.
During Thursday evening’s meeting, it was the neighbors’ turn to present evidence as to why this special permit for Cahill should not be approved. Two legal representatives represented the community and neighbors. Attorney Jamie Stokes represented the Boone family, who already reached an agreement with Cahill. Dr. Allison Fender represented the rest of the community. Since Stokes’ clients had already reached an agreement, Fender was the only one who tried to present a rebuttal case for the community using traffic safety, fire concerns and the project being a nuisance to the neighbors. However, Fender admitted this was her first time in this type of venue. Many of her questions to her witnesses were objected to by the attorney for the applicant Jesse Swords. Wyatt upheld the majority of Swords’ objections.
After Fender completed her defense of why the project should be denied, the public was allowed to speak, but not before Noor counseled the board the evidence portion of the hearing was over and nothing said in public comment should have any bearing on their decision whether to approve the application. During public comment, not one person spoke in favor of Cahill’s project.
After hearing from the public, the board began the deliberation of whether the applicant made their burden of proof for the application. As each question was read off of the application and voted on, the board members were quiet and, while not verbally deliberating about any of the questions, were slow to make motions to approve the applications. At nearly every question, Board Attorney John Noors, who has been with the board for a little more than a month, appeared to be pushing the board towards a passage of approval. He told members, “you must approve.” Asked about his prodding of the board and not giving the board a choice to approve or disapprove, Noor said, “So I’m not authorized to make any comments on behalf of the county…so I don’t have a comment for you.”
Wyatt asked for Cahill to come forward and sit with her lawyer as he prepared to call for the final vote.
“This is the hardest part of our job,” he said, “Everyone of us on this board grew up in this county…but we have to…go by the law.” He then addressed Cahill saying, “Our county is changing…you bought that property with your own money. You worked hard to pay for it. I’ve always been on the conservative end that a man has a right to do with his property…I don’t want nobody to tell me what I can do with my property as long as they abide by the laws of this state and the ordinances of this county, but I want you all to be good neighbors.” Cahill said, “We intend to.”
“That means this community, don’t try and change their heritage. Don’t tell them how they should live. You understand what I’m saying,” Wyatt asked.
“Oh, I understand. Our neighbors shooting guns and we don’t complain and we certainly understand that and respect the folks around us,” she responded. Wyatt added what he said “…had nothing to do with the board but “just something he wanted to say.” With that, he called for the vote, which passed unanimously. “You have your application and just remember what I said,” Wyatt added.
“Thank you. I hope to never see you all again here. Maybe at the grocery store. Appreciated,” she responded.
Asked afterward what her response was to the board’s ruling, Cahill said, “I’m definitely glad it was approved. I respected everyone’s opinions and I was glad to hear everyone’s input. I did definitely try to get the input of my neighbors prior to coming before the board to get where everyone is coming from and come up with some agreements with our neighbors to make them feel better about our project.”