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Split council opts against Unified Development Ordinance

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LIBERTY – City leaders met in a special meeting to consider several pieces of business, including whether to proceed on a Unified Development Ordinance; in the end, council opted not to proceed.

According to City Manager Tom Warner, in May 2020, the city council approved the development of a UDO to promote health, safety and the general welfare of the community. That plan had not moved forward, and the item was placed on the agenda to request guidance after receiving differing opinions from council during the plan's development.

“The UDO consolidates in one place and in logical order of all the regulations pertaining to land use and development,” said Warner.

After a brief presentation by Warner looking at the UDO, there was a discussion amongst council members and Planning and Zoning Commission members.

Commission member Emily Cook stated that they had been looking at the UDO for over a year and that while the city’s current codes needed to be cleaned up, she felt that could be achieved by other means. She also thought the consultants had simply pitched the code as the same one implemented in Dayton.

“From a Liberty perspective, not that I don’t like Dayton or have anything against Dayton, but that is not the best-selling point if that’s your only selling point about why we should do this,” said Cook.

Cook felt that the consultants were not specifically looking at the city of Liberty in their approach to developing a code and that she felt different avenues could achieve these efforts.

“We should be thorough, adopting things one step at a time instead of adopting a huge packet of information,” she continued, “it was never sold to us how this would be a benefit and why it needed to be done at one point, and it all seemed sloppy and rushed.”

Fellow commission member Rick Jenner echoed those sentiments.

“If we don’t have time enough to deal with our current ones, we bring a whole new set and dump them down. Are we going to be able to maintain those? We were told we could fit it to Liberty, but we would have to go through every line item and make it fit,” said Jenner.

Councilwoman Diane Driggers offered a different view of the UDO and believed it would be an excellent tool to utilize.

“I believe it would help protect the integrity of our town,” said Driggers.

The councilwoman expressed worries about continuing to operate without zoning across the city. She showed concern over businesses randomly opening in subdivisions and other undesirable development in the future, especially fearing the city would continue to be reactive instead of proactive without the plan.

Councilman Tommy Brents countered Driggers feelings related to undesirable businesses in the community.

“Undesirable businesses come around because there are undesirable people that want to do undesirable things and undesirable businesses. That’s a cultural problem, and we can’t legislate that,” Brents argued.

Driggers responded by saying that her concern was again businesses opening in subdivisions. Brents asked if there was something the city could do currently, and City Attorney Brandon Davis informed the councilman that only certain businesses, like a sexually oriented business, could be restricted now.

Warner chimed in and told council the city was currently involved in a conflict involving a commercial business that had been opened in a residential neighborhood.

“We basically have very little to no control over what goes in,” said Warner.

According to Warner and Davis, there is very little the city can do to regulate business development without zoning districts in place.

“We’re reacting to things that are going in rather than being proactive,” said Warner.

Mayor Carl Pickett also cited his support of moving forward with the UDO.

“This is to provide, as Tom says, a set of laws and set of rules that are there on the books to prevent certain actions from affecting property in the city of Liberty that might come about without us knowing about it,” said Pickett.

In the end, Brents motioned to forgo the UDO, with a second from Chipper Smith. They were joined in voting by Ed Seymour and Libbie Simonson. Pickett, Driggers and Dennis Beasley voted in support of moving forward with the development code.