Clay County Planning and Zoning Administrator Cynthia Aden defended recent decisions made by her and by the Clay County Planning Commission during a Tuesday morning hearing before the Clay County Board of Adjustment.
The Board of Adjustment meeting was held to provide a public hearing in response to an appeal by the Living River Group, Sierra Club of the issuance of a conditional use permit to Travis Mockler that would allow him to expand his livestock operation.
Aden also responded to comments made by Susanne Skyrm, co-chair of the Living River Group, Sierra Club moments before at Tuesday’s hearing.
“She stated that there were things that the Sierra group wished that the zoning administrator and/or the planning commission would put in place for animal feeding operations and CAFOs,” she said. “I don’t get to do that. I don’t get to add those things to the regulations. Changing the regulations is where that happens. If there are additional things that they want done, then there needs to be a regulation change.”
Aden said that Skrym’s statement that she (Aden) had presented new information at an April 29 hearing regarding the Mockler permit is false.
“I did not. The findings that they saw were actually available at the first hearing (held March 25) but a motion was made to refer to the state attorney’s office and the hearing ended at that point, so those findings were never presented to the public at the first hearing,” she said, “although I did read them into the record.”
Aden said Skrym’s mention that a commissioner had stated on April 29 that they were working on their third AFO/CAFO application is inaccurate.
“The first two CAFOs we worked on were done under the old zoning regulations and they were what prompted the changes to the current zoning regulations that we have now,” she said, “because we realized, going through the old zoning regulations, that we were in a feedback loop and you could never approve anything the way the old ones were written. The changes weren’t actually pushed by Mr. Mockler or anybody on the county commission; the changes were actually pushed by me.
“I’m the person who brought it up to the planning commission and the county commission and I’m the person who pushed that forward,” Aden said. “If you’re going to blame anybody for that, I’m the person who is responsible for that.”
She said that there has never been and documents present to her or the planning commission by the Living River Group, Sierra Club.
“I think Susanne said something at the meeting about this memo had been presented to the planning commission and that’s not true,” Aden said. “This is the first time that’s ever been put in front of us.” She added that maps that had presented by Susanne had also never been given to her or the planning commission.
“There are many statements made to the planning commission by the Sierra Club,” she said, “but they have never presented me with any documentation to back up any of their statements.”
Aden said accusations have been made during planning commission meetings that false statements have been presented.
“I want to tell the county commission that I don’t regularly engage in lying and don’t intend to start now and I’m not going to do it in the future,” she said.
Aden said that Skyrm’s claim that Mockler’s proposed expansion qualifies as two animal feeding operation is incorrect.
“That is not true. We have one. Our animal feeding operation numbers, the animal tables in the regulations do not combine the species. Each species is considered separate. That’s the way it was written,” she said. “I don’t get to add them together,” she said. “There’s nothing in there (the AFO/CAFO ordinance) that says that you can add them together, so they’re always considered separately. We have a medium one for beef and a medium one for hogs. That’s the way our rules are written.
“Again, if they want changes to regulations, then we have to go back and redo the regulations,” Aden said. She also responded to the Living River Group, Sierra Club’s claim that there is lack of application to details by local officials.
“One of the things that happens in my office is that I get to decide how I look at things, how I develop a file, how I put together the information,” she said. “At no time did the Sierra Club ever come to me and say ‘we were looking for something specific.’ They presented me with some very vague things about how they didn’t like my site plan.
“One of the things that did about for a site plan is I requested Mr. Mockler to prepare a plat that we used as part of the rezoning and the site plan,” Aden said. “When they say there is a no site plan – we have a very specific legal document that delineates the site. This is not a city. We are talking about country. We are talking about a farm. I’m not going to have lots and blocks. I’m not going to have a detailed setback map for a whole bunch of little things. What I have is a site where an animal feeding operation can happen. That is large space.”
Aden noted that receiving a letter from the NCRS was first talked about when the county was working on changing its AFO/CAFO ordinance, and that organization had agreed at that time that they would provide the county with a letter that could be used to determine if an operation was an AFO or a CAFO.
“When Travis went to get this letter, they would not give him one and instead said you have to talk to the (state) DENR,” she said. “So, we did that. We went to the DENR and got the information from Mr. Woodmansey. Both Travis and I spoke with him personally and I sent him some information by email.
“We substantially complied with that part (of the ordinance) and that is a thing in our regulations that we will have to go back and fix because we know that it doesn’t work,” Aden said. She added that there is a separability clause in the county ordinance.
“It says if there is one part of the regulation is found to not be valid or is unworkable, it does not mean that we throw out the rest,” Aden said. “We can still continue using the rest of the regulation … it’s something that we know that we need to fix, but it does not stop Mr. Mockler’s application.”
She told the board of adjustment that an email from Mr. Woodmansey is something the Sierra Club has continually talked about through the Mockler conditional use process.
“Mr. Woodmansey and I were talking about a couple of different things and I’m allowed to talk to officials about more than one thing at a time,” Aden said. She noted that while she was discussing the Mockler application with Woodmansey, she was also asking him for advice on other types of information that can be used for future livestock feeding operation applications.
The Feb. 27, 2019 letter the Sierra Club mentions in its appeal, she said, is not about the Mockler application. “So they’re talking about my work product in regards to a questionnaire … that has nothing to do with Travis’ application. It has to do with a project that I’m working on with the DENR to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Aden said she has complied with all regulations regarding notices of hearings. “If any member of the Sierra Club had a question about anything, instead of looking at my website they could also contact me by telephone or call any member of the planning commission at any time,” she said. “To my knowledge, nobody on the planning commission was ever contacted by a member of the Sierra Club. I have never been contacted with the exception when Susanne twice brought me letters.”
She told board of adjustment members that all of the documents in front of them Tuesday morning were present at the March 25 planning commission meeting.
“I haven’t added to anything with exception of the findings documents which is required by the regulations to be done at the time that I hear that it is finished and a decision has been,” Aden said, “so you have a findings document as well.
“If you go through the findings document, you will see that I have addressed every regulation that applies to this particular application,” she said. “You can go through it and you can check all of the boxes off; you can see where I may or may not have answered everything to your satisfaction but in my job that is what I have to do.”