PITTSBORO — For the second month in a row, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners met with limited public attendance and set in motion plans to further adapt its meeting structure during the …
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PITTSBORO — For the second month in a row, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners met with limited public attendance and set in motion plans to further adapt its meeting structure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The board will try a hybrid virtual and in-person meeting in June that will include a legislative public hearing on a zoning matter that is deemed non-controversial. Board Clerk Lindsay Ray presented the option to the board.
“Testing the public hearing that (the) planning (department) recommended in June would be a good way for us to see how this works,” she said. “I feel like we might have some time to see how those things work, but I don’t think we’ll know until we try.”
The meeting structure that will be tested next month will allow for members of the public and county staff to participate remotely and in-person. It will work like this:
• All five commissioners will be present at the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center and will utilize a laptop to be a panelist on a GoTo Webinar broadcast. All of the commissioners will be visible throughout the entire meeting.
• Residents can watch the broadcast in overflow rooms at the Ag Center or on an online livestream. They can participate in-person or virtually. Those in overflow rooms will speak into a laptop with a camera as part of the broadcast, or they can join the GoTo Webinar broadcast from their homes. Residents may also submit comments in written form or by leaving a voicemail.
The GoTo Webinar software will be tested at upcoming county Appearance Commission and Planning Board meetings prior to the commissioners’ June 15 meeting. The software will cost the county $2,400 per year for use, which will be paid out of the Governing Board’s travel expenses budget that is not being used due to COVID-19.
The one piece of contention with the meeting system was not around the system itself but what would be discussed at the first one.
County staff recommended that a non-controversial item be used for the first test public hearing, so they suggested delaying the public hearing on rezoning requests for the Williams Corner development in northeast Chatham. Multiple residents spoke during public input agreeing with that suggestion.
“Please wait and revisit land management concerns once our county has rebounded and give developers the opportunity to revisit their economic studies,” said Anthony Curtis, who specifically mentioned Williams Corner. “Now is not the time to push the growth on our citizens. Now is the time to be conservative and take care of those more impacted (by COVID-19).”
Nick Robinson, a lawyer representing Williams Corner developers, said moving forward with another request before that development “would be without a doubt prejudicial and extremely unfair.” He said that Williams Corner filed for rezoning prior to other applications on the docket, and that since county ordinance does not allow for zoning public hearings in July, not taking care of it in June would mean a further three-month delay.
“We are a good, flexible and resilient constituency,” Robinson said. “We can make it through the remote Williams Corner public hearing in June. We believe it would be inappropriate to single out Williams Corner for prejudicial treatment.”
Commissioner Mike Dasher expressed concern about delaying projects and having them “backed up” and the potential “ripple effect” from that, but board Chairman Karen Howard said the COVID-19 situation warranted taking things step-by-step.
“It is disappointing if we’re getting backed up, but disappointing is a pill we can swallow,” Howard said. “We are not arbitrarily choosing. We are in a critical crisis and making a decision that we hope is for the benefit of all of us.”
Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.