East Carbon City Mayor Orlando LaFontaine sharply criticized the city's Planning and Zoning board on Tuesday, claiming that the department is making it difficult for people to purchase or develop property in town.
LaFontaine said he feels that the process of purchasing a property may be one of the reasons preventing businesses from moving into the city. He said there have been few instances where people call him up saying they want to move to the area and mentioned that some people and businesses who have given back to the community have left the area recently.
"Nothing hurts more than that," he said. "Do you know why they leave or why our kids don't want to come back here? Because there is nothing here."
Purchasing land in East Carbon has become a long and drawn out process for property purchasers, complete with many pages of forms to be filled out, numerous meetings that must be attended and describing what exactly will be done with the property before the transaction is completed.
After weeks of deliberations and going back and forth between the the city council and Planning and Zoning board, council members approved the purchase of two properties with the requirement that they will be surveyed and appraised.
The action by the city council was made final after the council came to the consensus that allowing the purchase of the land by the two purchasers was in the best interest of the city. Jeremy Humes, East Carbon city attorney, said that the city could skip the other steps in the process, including the bidding process, if they showed that the property purchases in question were being sold in the best interests of the city.
The property purchases have made the council question issues within the city not only with people purchasing land, but also trying to get businesses and families to move into the area. The revenue from taxes on the properties collected by the city is the one thing council members agreed is a very important issue that could go towards helping the city, especially with its budget problems.
While the motion was passed to allow the property purchases, more questions, and criticisms, preceded the action by the city council.
The council opened the meeting with a public hearing about the sale of the properties which allowed members of the community, including the property purchasers, to give their thoughts and ask questions before the council. During the hearing LaFontaine brought up the problems he sees with the city council and the planning and zoning committee. LaFontaine said that people looking to purchase property having been going back and forth between both boards in the attempt to complete the purchase. He also said that Planning and Zoning should have all of the information about the property, including what is being planned for the land.
Last week LaFontaine said he was looking for a map in the Planning and Zoning office and was having a hard time finding what he was searching for. His opinion about the office was less than flattering.
"For five years I have been mayor here, the Planning and Zoning office is a disgraceful place," he said. "I went in there looking for a map and oh my, oh my."
LaFontaine said that Planning and Zoning helps the city council out by giving information on what they feel should be done about projects in the city, including property purchases. He offered the suggestion that the city should reevaluate the relationship between the city and the planning and zoning board.
"We (city council) need to start fresh with planning and zoning," said LaFontaine.
Joyce Caviness, chairperson for the Planning and Zoning board, said that the board is doing the best they can with the information that the board is provided with. Caviness said there were other issues the board is dealing with including specific information about the properties.
"Sometimes we don't know what is being sold and what is being bought," Caviness said, noting that the properties in question are on such big pieces of land.
While the relationship between the city council and planning and zoning may need work, some feel that the system in place right now is not bad. Councilman David Avery thought that some people were bad mouthing the Planning and Zoning board. Avery said he felt there are some things the planning and zoning board is not responsible for but are being blamed for regardless.
"Are we supposed to teach the purchaser how to purchase the property? It's not our responsibility," said Avery.
While he does not work on the board of Planning and Zoning, Avery attends the meetings as an observer for the city council. Councilman Darrell Valdez serves as a member on the board.
The system currently in effect right now for purchasing property is not a bad one, Avery said.
"It's not before (purchasing) and it's not after. That's what this meeting is here tonight," he said.
"We have a good system if we work within it."
Avery said he would like to see due diligence followed with the purchaser, including what plans on what the property may possibly look like when everything is completed. He questioned whether the city or the purchaser would be responsible for having water, sewer, gas, street lighting and other requirements that may be needed for a property. The council agreed that issues with utilities would be taken care of by the purchaser if they are not currently in place at the property.
Jeff and Ricki Palmer, who are in the process of buying property, have talked about possibly putting storage units on the property they want to purchase. Terry Young, the other property purchaser, said he would use his property to park his heavy equipment and vehicles instead of parking them around town.
To better understand the the properties in question, the city council agreed that it may be best if council members visit the properties in question to get a first-hand look for themselves.