• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

Port Wentworth dissolves planning commission and appoints new board

ByChad J. Johnson

Oct 4, 2022

As part of Port Wentworth’s overall effort to revamp its planning and zoning practices, the city council voted to completely restructure their planning commission.

A unanimous vote at the September 22 council meeting effectively disbanded the current four-member panel, leaving room for the council to appoint five members to the new nine-member council. According to City Manager Steve Davis, four positions will be filled by city employees adding “expertise” to an otherwise all-volunteer group.

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Deputy City Manager Jason Stewart, who has 17 years of experience in planning and development departments, will take over as chairman of the planning commission. He will only vote to break ties. The other three positions in the city will be filled by Police Chief Matt Libby, Fire Chief Lance Moore and Director of Public Works Omar Senati-Martinez.

Lauree Morris, the only original member who applied to be a board member again, was reappointed, along with John Holland, head of the Newport Subdivision Homeowners Association. After a round of discussion, the board decided to appoint the other three positions at another meeting.

Several council members emphasized that the planning commission must be resident-focused.

“They should be residents because there’s a difference between what benefits a business and what benefits a resident,” said At-large board member Jo Smith.

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The restructuring of the planning commission was prompted by a city ​​zoning ordinance check external auditors Horizon Community Planning. The review revealed major problems, not only with the ordinance itself, but also with the organization of the city’s planning commission.

“The entire planning and zoning process needs to be modernized and professionalized,” Davis said. “Our meetings weren’t run optimally…Therefore, we decided to look at other organizational structures that would better suit our growing area.”

Traffic moves along Highway 21 past the Rice Hope area in Port Wentworth.

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A new model of urban planning commission

The new structure, a mix of city professionals, residents and business owners, reflects the neighboring city Pooler Planning and Zoning Boardwhich includes three city employees, three residents and the town planner as chairman.

The planning commission serves as an advisory group to the city council on matters of planning, zoning, land use and development. The planning commission recommends whether or not an incoming development or alterations to a development aligns with the city’s zoning laws.

Ultimately, the board is not bound to follow the commission’s recommendations.

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A limited number of houses line the single lane Berrien Road in Port Wentworth.

Over the years, residents of Port Wentworth, as well as members of council, have raised concerns that council is going against the recommendations of the planning commission. In particular, residents living in traditionally rural and agricultural communities have risen up against large warehouse innovative developments within sight and sound of their homes. They directed blame at city officials, saying they had failed to protect their quality of life in the heavily industrialized city.

Zoning moratorium:Port Wentworth declares a moratorium on warehouses for the next six months

Recognizing that industrial growth is encroaching on residential areas, Port Wentworth has adopted a six-month moratorium on industrial rezoning in June, which the council will probably have to extend until next year, according to the city manager.

The extension will allow the city to complete an overhaul of its zoning ordinance. Auditors will then also work with the city to revise their overall plan to match the reworked zoning ordinance.

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @nancyguann.