Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 26, 2018

GA Supreme Court Holds Hearing Before County Planning Commission Did Not Afford Interested Citizens Meaningful Opportunity to be Heard

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Doug and Lynda Tatum applied to the Pickens County Board of Commissioners for a conditional use permit for a 75–acre parcel near Jasper, Georgia. The application was referred to the Pickens County Planning Commission for a hearing. Following the publication of notice, the Planning Commission held a hearing in October 2015, at which several neighbors appeared and objected to the application. Despite these objections, the Planning Commission recommended that the application be approved, and in January 2016, the Board approved it. Some of the neighbors filed a petition for judicial review, asserting that they were denied a meaningful opportunity to be heard on the application. Specifically, the neighbors complained that the Board failed to give notice as required by the Zoning Procedures Law (“ZPL”) of the January 2016 meeting at which it approved the application. The neighbors filed a motion for summary judgment, which the superior court denied, holding that the notice of the October 2015 hearing was enough to satisfy the ZPL. The neighbors appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the superior court’s holding.

On appeal, the court found that the Planning Commission had no authority to make a final zoning decision, and it could only make recommendations to the Board. Additionally, the only record of that hearing was a one-page memorandum to the Board from the county director of public relations, which was prepared nearly a month after the hearing and only disclosed that the Planning Commission had heard “testimony from the applicant and considerable objections from the surrounding neighborhood in attendance.” Moreover, the memorandum failed to disclose even the general nature of those “considerable objections,” and, therefore, the court found that the memorandum could not have informed the Board in a meaningful way of what happened at the hearing. Accordingly, the court held that the hearing before the Planning Commission did not afford interested citizens a meaningful opportunity to be heard by the Board on the application for a conditional use permit. The October 2015 hearing therefore did not satisfy the notice-and-hearing requirements of the ZPL, and the court therefore reversed the superior court’s holding.

Hoeschstetter v Pickens County, 815 S.E. 2d 50 (GA 6/9/2018)

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