Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19, 2012 Masengill Springs Rezoning Fails: Morristown's Charter Zoning Provision Applies

Opponents of the Masengill Springs development on West Andrew Johnson Highway won at least a temporary victory yesterday when the Masengill Springs rezoning failed with 3 YES votes (Danny Thomas, Chris Bivens, and Gene Brooks), 2 NO votes (Kay Senter and Bob Garrett), and 1 ABSTENTION (Paul LeBel).

Residents have repeatedly cited flooding, traffic, and quality of life issues in opposition to the rezoning. The bombshell, however, was their discovery in recent weeks that there is a provision in the Morristown City Charter that requires the City to provide three public notices of a proposed rezoning and allows certain nearby residents to sign a petition protesting the rezoning and thus require a 4/5 council vote for approval instead of a simply majority.

[The City admitted that it has ignored the Charter provision requiring three public notices and apparently citizens and council have previously been unaware of the petition process provided for residents.]

Initially, it appeared that the entire matter would be delayed two weeks at the request of the developer--a move which is normally accomplished by a simple motion and majority vote of council.

Kay Senter, however, made a move for postponement to October 2 as a "special order."  The "special order" terminology surprised many members of council and the city attorney. Kay had her Robert's Rules with her and pointed out that the "special order" term meant that her motion to postpone required a 2/3 vote of council for the postponement.

Amidst the confusion and discussion, the motion to postpone by "special order" failed to get the required 2/3 majority.

Kay then quickly made a motion to approve the rezoning.  At that point, City Attorney Dick Jessee stated that he had received an opinion on Monday (the day before yesterday's vote) from MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) that upheld the City Charter zoning provision requiring a 4/5 vote to approve a rezoning when the required number of residents have protested the rezoning by petition.

More discussion and controversy. When the vote was taken on Kay's motion to approve the rezoning, a majority voted YES, but not the required 4/5.  Voting YES were Gene Brooks, Chris Bivens, and Danny Thomas. Voting NO were Kay Senter (who had made the motion to approve the rezoning) and Bob Garrett. Abstaining was Paul LeBel.

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