Mar. 17—The Glynn County Commission voted down a request from the Islands Planning Commission to reduce public comment time on Tuesday.
IPC members voted 6-0 last month to request the county commission ratify a policy change that would cut the time allowed for public comment on site plans and Pier Village preservation permits in half.
Public comment periods are distinct from public hearings, which the IPC has no intention of attempting to shorten, IPC Chairman Joel Willis told The News in a recent interview. Public hearings are relevant to zoning matters, including property rezoning, land use permits and planned development text amendments.
In 2017, the IPC instituted the public comment policy in a mirror image to public hearings — one hour total, 30 minutes each for those opposed and for those in favor and five minutes per speaker.
Public comment periods are held to give citizens a chance to point out errors or ask for information on site plans and village preservation permits, which the IPC considers largely administrative in nature. If a property’s zoning district allows for what the owner wants to build, then all the site plan or preservation permit has to do is meet the county’s development regulations, according to commissioner Cap Fendig.
In other words, if someone has a problem with a convenience store being built, they need to tackle it at the zoning stage.
“What we get from the public is, and I’m not criticizing, they come out … in droves and say, ‘We don’t want this project at the entrance to our neighborhood,'” Willis told the commission at the Tuesday work session. “Well, that property was zoned (for commercial use) in 1989 before the houses were built.”
Under the proposed policy change, the public comment period would be reduced to 30 minutes total allowing three minutes per speaker, scrapping the “for and against” framework. The IPC would like to allow questions and constructive critiques only.
Few commissioners had a problem with the latter part of the request, but Commissioners Walter Rafolski and Fendig, among others, felt it simply looked bad to take away from the public an opportunity to speak.
Commissioner Bill Brunson was one of two — the other being Commissioner Sammy Tostensen — to support the change.
He dissented from his fellow commissioners on the grounds that long public comment periods full of “bloviating” make long meetings, which turn citizens away and discourage civic participation.
Commissioners Fendig, Rafolski, Allen Booker, David O’Quinn and Chairman Wayne Neal voted to decline the IPC’s request.
Neal did, however, ask that the IPC come up with another proposal to remove the stipulation that citizens be given time to speak in favor of and against site plans and preservation permits without shortening the overall time they have to speak.
In other business, Greg Roush, with Geosyntec, gave the commission a presentation on Pinova’s plan to address contamination at the 100-year-old pine resin plant.
The corrective action plan, which Roush also called a CAP, is a requirement for the company to receive its hazardous waste permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
EPD renewed the plant’s hazardous waste permit last year. Roush said the primary purpose of the permit is to lay out a road map for future actions at the facility, including site-wide corrective actions. The CAP is part of that.
The plan is designed to resolve the issue of contaminants dumped into the soil in the 100 years since the plant was founded.
Roush stated that there’s no evidence of any immediate threat to the public from the contamination.
The plant was built by Hercules in the 1920s and later bought out by the current owner, Pinova. It uses primarily pine tree stumps to make pine resin products used globally, Roush said.
A virtual public meeting is scheduled for March 31 at 6 p.m. To attend visit bit.ly/HerculesMeeting or call 561-440-3151 and enter meeting ID 278 352 656# on the day of the meeting.
Public comments can be submitted through May 10 to [email protected].
For more information, visit herculesbrunswick.com.
Commissioners also heard a presentation on a Mallery Park improvement plan by the St. Simons Athletic Association. Association member Yates Anderson said some private donors had come forward and want to see improvements at the park.
The plan includes improved parking, better drainage, new batting cages, a new pavilion, bullpens, a larger playground and larger, rearranged baseball fields.
All live oaks in the park would be preserved, he said.
Rafolski said more parking would be a plus, and that he thought the plan was a good idea. Commissioner Fendig said he found it exciting, especially given the prospect of receiving private contributions.
Ben Hartman, another member of the association, said the group was simply looking for a green-light to pursue the initiative. They would work mostly on private funds and volunteer efforts and have the park ready for the next baseball season.
On another issue, Glynn County Recreation and Parks Department Director Lisa Gurganus gave the commission a rundown of what it would take to expand the county’s lifeguard program at Gould’s Inlet during peak tourist season — Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The area around Massengale Park and the old Coast Guard station are the most active parts of the beach, she said, but close to a third of water rescues occur at Gould’s Inlet.
To staff and equip a team of lifeguards at the inlet, Gurganus said the county would need to commit $59,400 to the recreation department’s budget in 2021 and $50,000 in 2022. She conditioned the estimate on the county purchasing the necessary gear this year. Costs may change if it waits.
A good chunk of the cost would be an off-road vehicle and stronger radios, a necessity due to the distance between Gould’s Inlet and the other active areas. In addition, she said a curve in the beach breaks the line of sight and hinders weaker radios.
Commissioners gave Gurganus a “consensus” agreement to move ahead.
Commissioners also heard a request to support via a resolution Portum System LLC in its effort to get a COVID-19 tracking smartphone app off the ground. The commission’s support would be a prerequisite to taking the app online.
Portum is a local company that intends to grow in the area and eventually employ 25 or more people, representatives of the company said.
County staff members gave the commission a status update on Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2016 projects.