A request for a zoning change or variance was made to Trenton City Commissioners by former Mayor Barton Harris and potential city property owner Joseph Bello during July’s City Commission meeting Monday night.
Mayor Alex Case said he had received one email from a neighboring property owner, Ron Weeks, against changing the zoning for land Harris owns and Bello is wanting to purchase. The purchase would be six acres total and include house and barn. Harris owned the property before it was within city limits and had a letter from the city commission at that time grandfathering his animals in. Harris said he had some horses at the time, but the letter had said if he every got rid of the horses and went more than a year without them, then he could not bring any horses back. Harris said the lack of horses on the property has made it difficult for him to keep up with maintenance due to all the hills and trees. Bello would like to fence in most of the acreage and the barn and have no more than three horses, a few chickens and maybe eventually some goats. Bello said he was an engineer and he was picky and wanted it all to look nice.
Commissioner Monda Wooten said she had also received communication from the Blevins family who is building a house near the property in question and based on the questions from Blevins she did not think they were in favor either.
Bello asked if there was a way to explain it was not going to be a working farm or commercial farm, but just a few animals for his family’s enjoyment. Commissioner Kirk Forshee said that is what the public hearing for a zoning change is for. He said Bello would get to speak first and answer questions from the people attending the hearing.
Case said the only way Bello could have livestock like horses and goats would be to change the zoning designation and it would have to be changed for that entire area. Code Enforcement Officer Ansel Smith said it was currently zoned BR, or business residential, but the city would have to change it to RA, residential agricultural which means the property could be used for residential or agricultural purposes. Smith and Case also explained that some farm animals like chickens and ducks are allowed per city ordinances.
Harris said he was surprised that Mr. Weeks was against the farm having animals as he had chickens and at one time, goats, on his property. Bello pointed out that several people within the city are in violation of the codes, then, and he was trying to do the right thing and it did not seem fair.
Cindy Weeks, who purchased a home and property once belonging to Harris next to the property Bello wants to purchase, came in to the meeting late and told Harris and Bello she was concerned about the runoff from the pond and hills behind her house and said she did not want horse poop, horse flies and smells. Weeks stated that the pond and runoff floods into her front yard. Harris said the pond overflows into a ditch that runs behind the barn. Weeks also was concerned that having the small farm next to her property could affect property values. Weeks indicated that the only reason Harris was allowed animals was because he was the Mayor, but Harris, Case and the commissioners explained he was grandfathered in with the letter when he was not in office and was a whole separate issue.
Commissioners said they could hold a public hearing, but those who already owned property in the city and their opinions would hold more weight than Bello’s. Wooten told him if everyone that attended was against Bello having animals then she would have to vote with them because they already live in the city.
Harris said he just wanted to make the point that Bello was not asking to use the property for anything it had already not been used for and was not talking about squeezing a whole lot of animals onto an acre lot.
“What else are you going to do with a barn and six acres,” Bello asked and said whether or not they could have a few animals would be a deal-breaker for them in purchasing the property.
Wooten reminded Harris that when he had animals the property was very well-kept, but Harris had also owned most of the land around the farm which is not the case now.
Case said everyone has been keeping an eye on sales tax collections and June’s LOST, Local Option Sales Tax, collections were up to over $40,000 from $35,000 the month before. Collections run two months behind and there were concerns about the economy during state and nationwide shelter in place orders. June’s collections were actually collected during April, in the midst of the shutdowns. Case said part of what was helping was the collection of sales tax through online sales.
The city has applied for funding through the CARES act that will help offset additional costs for the city due to the pandemic. The city should get between $112,000 to $132,000, Case said, that will help pay for the additional two employees the city hired for keeping things disinfected with Parks and Recreation and for changes needed to be made at City Hall to keep employees and residents safe.
Commissioners approved the installation of three-speed bumps on Price Street near Jenkins park and warning signs to slow vehicles down and to hold a public hearing for rezoning the area Harris’s property was in from BR to RA.
Commissioners moved to Executive Session for Personnel and before returning and making a motion that a city employee who had been on Workers Comp since May 2019 be given the option of retiring or being terminated by July 31, 2020.
The full videos of the city’s July work session, meeting and post executive session can be viewed below.