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Our Opinion: County zoning merits earnest conversation

News Tribune editorial

Controversy is difficult to avoid in conversations about county zoning. The Cole County Commission advanced the discussion a notch on Thursday when it approved a contract with a consultant.

The three-member governing body voted 2-1 to contract with White & Smith LLC of Kansas City for services to prepare a zoning plan and map for the county.

The district commissioners — Chris Wrigley representing the west and Jeff Hoelscher in the east — endorsed the contract. Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger dissented, citing a desire for greater participation by the consultant in public forums. Although the contract was adopted at a cost of $74,800, Ellinger’s request will be pursued and could up the price to as much as $86,000.

If the added cost balloons by more than $11,000, that does not seem costeffective. If a lesser amount can be negotiated, the increase may be prudent.

Movement toward county zoning promises to be a lengthy process, which is as it should be.

A comprehensive map must deal with details and nuances.

For now, let’s look at the bigger picture.

Perhaps the greatest source of controversy will be balancing the overall interest in orderly growth with the individual interest in freedom from government rules, regulations and red tape.

Based on comments by the commissioners, they are acutely aware of this dilemma.

The purpose of a zoning plan is to balance competing interests by emphasizing a common denominator — protecting property.

Although property owners may be inclined to preserve their own freedom from regulation, the laissez-faire attitude may not extend to neighbors — particularly when the neighbor deals in junk cars, waste tires or, as we have witnessed, adult entertainment.

Hoelscher said: “As a builder, restrictions do scare me, but this is designed to help citizens facilitate growth, rather than restrict it.”

Growth is inevitable, and zoning is the inevitable response.

Wrigley noted Cole is among the few remaining first-class counties that has not adopted zoning.

As discussion becomes more focused, details become more devilish, and as the issue moves toward the ballot, public comment will be critical. Ellinger observed: “We need to get a lot of input from the community to make sure that people who have concerns, one way or another, get their opportunity to express themselves.” Let the conversation about county zoning begin in earnest.

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