At least 80 people attended a public hearing of the Jackson County Planning Commission last week to protest the permitting of religious activities.
Specifically, the mass came in support of a proposed amendment dealing with how religious assemblies are defined in the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC).
After the hearing, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval for those amendments. The recommendation will now go before the Jackson County Board of Commissioners (BOC) on Monday, Aug. 4, in the jury assembly room of the Jackson County Courthouse.
Greg Brockman, Jefferson, said his church was holding a tent revival on private property in unincorporated Jackson County on Hwy. 124 when a code enforcement officer told him he needed a permit. Brockman said he went to the planning and zoning office and saw the ordinance, read it, and thought it was “vague.” He decided to take it to the BOC, telling members “we should not have to ask a government official or government agency to gather in our own homes to worship God, to have bible studies or prayer meetings…”
The planning department had also started receiving complaints about religious activities and services that were being permitted for temporary events.
“We had an issue with temporary events being permitted, even though permitted events didn’t cost anything,” said county planning director Gina Roy.
She said the biggest complaint with the temporary permitting had to do with religious events that were on public or church-owned properties. As a result, the proposed amendment eliminates the required permitting for temporary events, adding that the two biggest limitations that anyone would have to adhere to regarding a temporary event would be adequate off-street parking and adequate restroom facilities.
Roy added that the term “religious assemblies” is still listed and defined in the code section because “if it is not listed, then it is not a permitted use.”
“We want to make it very clear and across the board that religious assemblies are permitted in the UDC in Jackson County, but there will be no more permitting and none of those strenuous limitations that there were previously,” said Roy.
After supporters of the text amendment met with planning staff about the issue, there was still a little confusion, said Brockman, but by last Thursday’s meeting, proposed amendments to the code had been clarified to reflect that people have the right to meet on private property without having to obtain permission from any official.
“We meet by right and not by permit,” said Brockman, instructing the roomful of people to stand up. “So upon learning that, we stand in support. We support this change.”
“Thank you so much for changing it,” said Teresa Pack of Gillsville.
Tim Redmond, of Commerce, spoke in opposition, only to say he would like to “see something better.”
Sam Letson, of Jefferson, raised the question about terminology in the text amendments and how it relates to the first amendment of the constitution.
“Are any of the other items other than religious assemblies specifically mentioned or understood to be included in the first amendment to the Constitution? In other words, is this the only constitutionally identified activity that is brought under this local regulation?” asked Letson.
The planning commission appeared to struggle with how to tackle that question.
Commissioner Guy Spicer said if the language “is not unrestrictive enough,” the request should be voted down until an edited version is available. “I would like to think the drafting of this amendment was just ‘the result of sloppy draftsmanship,’” said Spicer. “Freedom is important, and I think the principle is also the use of land.”
After the unanimous vote to approve the recommendation, the crowd applauded.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The author does not allow comments to this entry