Kirsten Mustain

Grove Sun

Bernice’s town trustees and planning and zoning board members held a special meeting last Wednesday night to speak to citizens regarding the town’s zoning ordinances, which were signed into law in 2009.

Previously, there were no zoning restrictions in the town’s corporal limits.

“For years people just did what they wanted when they wanted,” said Mayor Bill Raven. “We’re just trying to get a grip on this and make the town better. As time goes and our town grows we’ve got to adjust.”

According to city attorney Jot Hartley, the zoning ordinance map went into effect in May of 2009.

All existing structures in Bernice were grandfathered in.

However some of the new ordinances had property owners seeing red.

Approximately 25 residents attended the meeting and many voiced their concerns.

Residents pointed out that many of the lots in Bernice were too small to accommodate the new requirements for front setbacks, side yards and back yards and still leave room for an actual building.

Others were displeased that their residential lots had been zoned commercial.

Hartley said the trustees were hoping to eventually limit businesses to the highway corridor rather than spreading them throughout the town.

Still others were worried that when they decided to replace their current mobile homes they would be forbidden from putting new mobile homes on their lots.

“It says in the ordinance that if someone wants to put a mobile home on an R-1 (single-family residential) lot and nobody within 300 feet of the lot objects, it shall be allowed,” Hartley said.

Residents also may not enlarge existing structures if they are being used for something different than what they are zoned for.

Hartley explained that the Board of Adjustment would hear appeals on a case-by-case basis, and residents could file for a special exception for $300.

Many people felt that the cost, which would be refunded would be difficult for a number of Bernice residents to afford.

Hartley said that if residents win their appeal the money is refunded.

“In a town like Bernice, you are better off handling things on a case by case basis and making sure it is done in harmony with surrounding properties,” Hartley noted.

Many residents felt that the ordinances should be amended to fit the town better, thereby circumventing the need for special exceptions and variances.

Another concern voiced by residents was the enforcement of the zoning codes.

Resident Don Pickle asked, “Do you have the means to enforce this?”

Hartley said most of the violations would probably be brought to the attention of town trustees by complaining neighbors.

He added that although the sheriff’s deputies contracted by the city for law enforcement would report any zoning violations they found, they would not be “driving around like the Gestapo” looking for violators.

Trustees said they were willing to make amendments to the ordinances if citizens had some ideas about what those amendments might be.

“If the code doesn’t fit the town, changes should be made,” Hartley concluded.