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Planning failures led to quarry, homeowner clash

July 28, 2005

Whatever else citizens may think about the Washington County Commissioners' decision to allow expansion of the H.B. Mellott Estates quarry on Mount Aetna Road, one fact is indisputable.

Even though the planning commission voted to recommend denial of this project, the county's planning process failed.

The purpose of land-use planning is to ensure orderly development by keeping incompatible uses separate.

If county government valued the quarry as an industry - and the quarry did precede homebuilding in the immediate area - it should have restricted residential development.

If county government wanted the area to become a residential community, it should have restricted the expansion of the quarry.

This is not entirely the fault of the current county commissioners, but they are continuing a long tradition of trying to avoid the difficult decisions, as they did recently when they passed a flawed rural rezoning plan.

That plan does little to accelerate the preservation of farmland, because doing that would require some tough decisions, such as issuing bonds to purchase farmland easements while they're still affordable.

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Instead, the commissioners are only now putting together a time-payment plan for those easements, a plan they hope farmers will accept.

Hard decisions often make people unhappy. But true leaders make them anyway, because they know that their legacy won't be today's headlines, but how the county looks and how well it operates in the decades to come.

In the quarry case, the three commissioners who voted for the expansion are trying, as the old expression goes, to have their cake and eat it, too.

For example, one condition placed on the rezoning is that mining cannot take place any closer than 100 feet to any residence.

One hundred feet is a long way if you're talking about the distance from one home to another, but not a lot when you're talking about the span between one's home and an open-pit mine.

The commissioners who approved the expansion should also agree that the county will guarantee that residents who want to leave will get fair-market value for their properties.

Or better yet, the trio who voted in favor of it - Commissioners Greg Snook, Dori Nipps and John Munson - should agree to live there themselves.

That's wishful thinking on our part, of course. The best we can hope for is that this board and the one that succeeds it will find the courage to make the hard decisions on how the county will grow in the future.

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