There were plenty of questions for Cole County officials at the last public meeting before an Aug. 5 vote on county zoning.
A standing room crowd packed the Cole County Emergency Management classroom Monday night. The first question from the crowd was the one county officials have been hearing the most - "Why do we need this?"
"To protect property rights," said Dick Peerson, co-chair of the zoning oversight committee which has been working on the issue for the last five years. "We've had things like sex shops come into neighborhoods in the past few years, and we couldn't keep them out because we don't have zoning. Things like this haven't happened often, but if we have zoning we can keep that from happening."
Cole County Public Works Director Larry Benz pointed to another situation that has raised residents' hackles.
"Twice in recent months we've had instances where lots that were sold to be developed as single family lots had one lot that didn't sell and a tri-plex is placed in the middle of that single family area," he said. "When things like that happen people want to do something about it. Zoning could allow people to have a say about what goes into their neighborhoods."
There are nine zoning districts in the plan with the agriculture category making up the majority of the county with the minimum lot area for that zoning set at five acres. Other categories include residential commercial zoning, residential single family and residential multi-family as well as general commercial and large industrial categories.
Shannon Kliethermes, senior planner for the Cole County Public Works Department, said 19 counties in the state have zoning.
"Agriculture practices are not regulated by zoning ," he said. " Zoning doesn't change your taxation status, and zoning can be changed or amended.
"If it is adopted, then the plan and map would have to finalized and ratified by the county planning and zoning committee. It then goes to the county commission who would have to hold hearings in all the townships before taking a final vote to adopt the plan."
Some in the audience said the 105-page plan is too much for the average resident to fully comprehend.
Businessman Harold Krieger said there should be more time for citizens to look at the plan.
"I couldn't get a copy of the plan when I first went to the county offices," he said. "In the short time I've looked at this, it appears you've taken some of this from what is in Jefferson City's code. There's a lot of regulations here."
All Cole Countians can vote on this issue, including Jefferson City residents, something Benz said if the county commission had its way they would not allow. But state statue requires all residents of the county to vote on zoning.
"I tell people that if they want vote no on this, then do so," Benz said. "If it doesn't pass, we'll still live."
When asked if this would be brought up again if the issue went down to defeat, Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger, who is leaving office in January, said, "No." Benz added it was his understanding that this was a one-time issue.
"I'm not for or against zoning," Western District Commissioner Chris Scheperle told the crowd. "There's things I see in here that I don't like and I will talk to Larry and Shannon about them, but I want you to talk to us about your thoughts. Do it now before the vote."
A copy of the zoning plan is available on the county 's website, www.colecounty.org. It's on the public works page under the planning tab.