Greeson: Property-use dispute underscores need for county zoning updates

Staff file photo / The Hamilton County Commission meets on June 5, 2019.

Amid discussion about a brewing feud over a barn Wednesday at the Hamilton County Commission meeting, the real need for some immediate attention to our county's zoning codes was apparent.

The questions back and forth - from commissioners to citizens to county Attorney Rheubin Taylor to building inspection and zoning Director Ronnie Blaylock - started with a barn being too close to a property line on McDonald Road.

At issue was what can people do on their property, and what they can't.

The voice of reason belonged to Blaylock, who has been busier than a New York City accountant at tax time.

Blaylock leads a team of 15 - mostly building inspectors - who chase property complaints and conduct property and building inspections in the unincorporated parts of the county.

And while the "wedding barn" has caught some headlines, Blaylock shared Wednesday that the county's antiquated building/zoning codes are under a much-needed review.

"We're putting our heads together and trying to figure this out as best we can," he said.

Pages and pages of code were written in the 1940s. How dated are they?

Well, Blaylock couldn't remember all of them, but he did say that most folks likely do not know that you need a work permit for any project that costs more than $100 on your home.

"You'd have a hard time getting shutters put on your home for $100 these days," Blaylock said. "But back when these were written, $100 was a lot of money."

As a Hamilton County taxpayer, I'm happy that Blaylock works for me. He was quick to credit his team for their work. He told me that he personally handles as many of the complaints as possible so his staff can focus on their tasks.

That kind of commitment will be needed in the days ahead as these codes are restructured, rewritten or even removed.

The process started about three months ago. Everyone involved wants the process to be expedited as much as possible.

"I really don't know," Taylor said about the expected end date of the overhaul. "I would hope we could do it as soon as reasonably possible."

That makes sense.

However, when I hear government want to act with urgency or immediacy, I don't get that warm, fuzzy feeling that all will go well.

Still, understanding that change must happen - and must be done judiciously and relatively quickly - is a great first step.

Think of any other part of modern life that is governed by the rules and restrictions of 1940s America. Now, imagine the impact those rules and regulations are having in an area that has changed as much as Hamilton County over the last two decades.

"That's a big part of it because there's no doubt that the growth we've seen has really changed a lot," Blaylock said.

There's no doubt. Just try to get some work done for less than 100 bucks.

photo Jay Greeson

Contact Jay Greeson at 423-757-6343 or