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Ask The Mayor: Nashville Zoning, New Utility Board, Tree Trimming

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Unknown Speaker
chord. All right, it says it's recording. I'll just start from the top make it easier. Hello. And it's asked the mayor the last week of February and that means Nashville municipal consultant DAX Norton joins us. Hello, and welcome with a backdrop. That's not a bunch of books and shelves, like we've seen in previous editions.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, yeah. And finally, in the, in the town hall, which was just had it's had a facelift over this pandemic. So it's nice and, and it's good to get to be in the public building. What,

Unknown Speaker
what kind of renovations have happened there this past

Unknown Speaker
year, so carpeting painting. Some drainage issues were fixed. It's nice, it's a good space for people that that pay for this building would be happy to come in and partake. It's a good building.

Unknown Speaker
much needed, I assume. Looks great. You know, I do most of the weather closings reporting. And I think for the first time ever, I saw the Indiana travel map, all in red due to through the whole state due to that winter storm last week. I just wanted to start with what does it take? And what does Nashville have to work with when it comes to snow removal and stuff like that?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, it takes a lot of dedicated halide dedication from workers who go way beyond their the expectation for them, and you know, they, they jump in those trucks. Oh, we have a great team. They jump in those trucks, they stay in them for 12 hours, they go home and get their you know, their their regular the rest of they need to get before they get back in the truck so that they're safe, and they get back in and again. You know, I think there was three storms in a eight day period there was one very large one. We can't say enough for what the Nashville crews did. And what the county crews did and what stay crews did it was it was just total dedication on their part. It's It's It's good to see you really want to see dedicated public servants, servant leaders. Let's go take a ride with the with plow crews and Nashville just bought three new plow trucks. They came in handy. But everybody did a great job.

Unknown Speaker
What are the rules? Or is there regulations for sidewalks and things like that?

Unknown Speaker
If you're an owner of a sidewalk, which most people are you're supposed to clear your own sidewalk. It doesn't always happen I think for the most part though, I walked around town look like most people had cleared their sidewalks obviously it's in it's in the best interest here in a place like Nashville and do so I think people get out and help each other as well. And that's the beauty of the community. You know, people will go out and help help somebody hasn't shoveled their sidewalk they'll take care of it so there's never really much of a big issue unless the snowplows come in and cover their sidewalks and then makes it nearly impossible to remove especially for freezes. Everybody does a pretty good job.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I usually Brown County is one of the first to go to an elevated travel advisory and one of the last to go back. Is that mainly due to the the all the hills and tearing there in Brown County?

Unknown Speaker
Absolutely. Yeah, topography is big. You know, schools schools closed for longer here for safety. It's difficult, you know, to get even if you plow some of these roads, these these in the inclines and you know it's it's just hard to get up those and hard for buses safely turn around and bus turnarounds and, you know, just for the just for safety purposes, keep it keep it under those advisories as much as possible so those crews can is much of the snow and ice off the road as possible.

Unknown Speaker
I want to get a little bit into zoning rezoning. Because our newsroom saw in the Brown County democrat this past week about the circuit court they're denying a neighbor's request to stop a logging business from operating as well as a request to have the county pay her attorney fees and that state there's a family logging business and I guess a dispute between the neighbor and county zoning that it's county but agreed to an exemption to continue the business. I was wondering if you had any more information about house zoning. Just to explain to people who may read about this and may not understand what this is all about what's at issue.

Unknown Speaker
Well you have county zoning ordinance you have a town zoning ordinance. The town is a member of the county area Planning Commission. Obviously this was a project outside of town limits, you know, and the county board of zoning appeals and county Planning Commission makes these decisions on, on whether somebody is operating their business within their rights in certain zoning, you know, designations, there are multiple zoning designations. And there are require, you know, there are approved uses and special exception uses in those zoning classifications, and basically what's been said is that they're there, they're running their business as they should be with, you know, as they're right within that particular zone. As with planning and zoning is all about it's, it's not just protect your you from your neighbor, but it's also to allow, you know, you get the best use out of your land. And especially if you own a business that makes money, you want to make sure that you get that that decision correct. And that that's the reason for planning and zoning. It's funny you bring that up the town is on Thursday, this Thursday is jumping into the plan to look at developing a new comprehensive plan. And the first step in planning and zoning is fate statute requires you to have a comprehensive plan. And so the town's since 1999, hasn't developed one long, long time ago. And you know, it's a 30 year plan, it'll, it'll, it'll it'll be the guidebook for, for the development of the town, and then the next 30 years, and it'll drive any changes to any of the zoning ordinances and within town limits. Whether that would spill over into county zoning, I don't know, but it would definitely drive any changes in the town limits?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and I just checked today and see there's a request for some explosive company to seeking zoning permissions to land there. Of course, that means more jobs for the area. But then I guess it's in the hands of town and county to see if that works in the area that they want it to be. But I think Mayor Hamilton oh and from Bloomington always said that these pages in the book for long term plans are like in a three ring binder, meaning that they can come out and be changed as time goes on. And is that something that you can relate to as well there?

Unknown Speaker
Yes, comprehensive plans are dynamic, they are not static by any means. They they are just that their guidebooks, their plans, zoning ordinances or law. It's, it's hard to, you know, it's hard to argue, which is why you have the layers that you do, you know, the Bz, a is a judicial body. They're making decisions and interpretations of the zoning law. The planning commission is a legislative body there, they're giving the council's recommendations and commissioners recommendations on what they would like the zoning law to be. And then those those elected bodies, the council and the commissioners vote on zoning law. And if if the zoning law states that you can do a certain thing within a certain zone, it's hard to tell a company or residents that you can't do that, because the law says you can do that. And so this is where we have you know, and we walk the fine line of protecting neighbor against neighbor, and protecting really the community's value. This is really about, you know, making sure that that development and planning protects the value of my property, and your property and all properties so that you have a high quality of life very livable place and that your investment here will give you a return. So that's what you always have to think about when somebody you know, is a demonstrator and a zoning issue is you have to be empathetic with what the remonstrating about because they may feel that it definitely will negatively affect them. And that's one of the questions that plant conditions have to ask per state statute. Is this going to negatively affect a neighboring parcel? Especially in a rezone question. So it's it's a, it's a big deal and the town jumping in and starting the comp plan process is good leadership. It's good for thinking and it's it's it's, it could be a very good exercise.

Unknown Speaker
And last quick question on that. How does the town move forward with rezoning? Let's say there's an area that wants more density or more commercial or more industrial? How does the city then Matt Start with things like water and and other infrastructure.

Unknown Speaker
Infrastructure comes into play when you're talking about a rezone, certainly the development comes into play doesn't necessarily have to be a part of the process development plans sometimes have to happen after the fact. But a good plan conditions will ask, you know, what's what's the development that you're seeking and with your rezone? And that will come into some of the questions that they have to ask as well. And you have to be, this is why a comprehensive plan is so important. Your comp plan also includes utility services. So what do we have now? What do we need to build so that we can continue to stay so that that infrastructure stays ahead of development, you always want your infrastructure to stay ahead of your development, because if it doesn't, it's going to be very hard to keep up and then it becomes very expensive. And then your infrastructure fails, from transportation to utilities to even even basic services provided. So when you're talking about a rezone of any kind those those questions, and that's why we have good appointees, to plant commissioners and DBAs. And they do they do they do a good job.

Unknown Speaker
So I see a new Nashville utilities service has been formed. But this is different from the utility board. Is that right?

Unknown Speaker
No, this this is the very first utility service board. So back in October of 2019, I believe it was council Vice President greddy suggested I think it was in a public meeting suggested that at the request of some citizens, you know, we should probably think about having utility service board because at the time the town was going through some legal issues with with partner, the utility was water utility. And then there were some other items with with wastewater side. So when you're talking about raising rates, or decreasing rates, which I'm not sure how it's ever happened in the history of history, but if you have the opportunity to do so, though, utility service board is a group of citizens who are not the council because right now the council was acting as the board that controlled the utility. So when the council did was they created a group of citizens now, it's basically a citizen group that is now layer between the utility operations, then utility service board, and that board gives recommendations to the Council on everything from capital spending, to the hiring of management, who rate paces, you know, do we need to raise rates? Do we keep rates where they are? How are the operations of the utility going, and the point of this is to really make sure that utilities are running as a top notch Corporation withdrawn. because too many times we see that we see that just as another government office, it's actually a company. I mean, it's a it brings in more money annually than the town budget. As a matter of fact, utilities bring in double the amount of revenue that the actual tax budget brings in annually. So let's make sure that we're running as professionally as we can. So you get a group of citizens. This utility service board is excellent. The appointees are amazing that they're the oversight group now and the recommendation group to the council for how we keep the utilities running top notch with top notch professionalism. And we have great staff here, utility staff is so good. And they'll just be there as a resource to the staff to help the staff continue to be as good as they can be.

Unknown Speaker
I know that's a big step. Watering infrastructure is something that we talk about on every show with every city and Bloomington just had four water main breaks this past weekend and know the weather has a lot to do with that. And I know, this goes back to what we were just talking about about infrastructure and expanding and density as well. So it sounds like that's a that's a big step.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, mixture of good step, good leadership shown. It'll be profitable in the future to have that group of citizens overseeing the operations of the utility.

Unknown Speaker
Something you know, we talked about this last summer, the town council also approving a Human Rights Committee. What is new on that and what's the next step to make that a reality there?

Unknown Speaker
So the Council passed a resolution to form a citizens Action Committee, a CAC to begin the process of answering the question of do what where is the town go from here? Is it is it a full fledged Human Resources Commission that's created based on statute? state statute gives the parameters for hrcs is it you know what kind of a group Now this is a town, hopefully in partnership, possibly with other entities due to create the next step forward. So the citizens Action Committee, I believe, have nine months. They're going to meet for nine months, they've chose five people at the last council meeting to start the process of finding out what that next step is, and is if it's if it's a full on human resources Commission's with that ordinance look like what does it do? You know, what's, what's the focus, so it's a good step that they've taken. And I think this very energetic group, they're looking forward to getting together and developing the next program of human relations here in Nashville, slash Brown County.

Unknown Speaker
Just want to run this by you really quick, there's a bill at the Indiana State House that I believe it died, though it didn't make it past committee, but I thought of you in Nashville when, when I saw this, it's kind of a, I guess it's a design bill, that the city can't regulate design elements of resident of residential buildings. So I thought of something like a town like Nashville, that there might be some more strict design standards for residential structures. What do you think of a bill like that?

Unknown Speaker
I think I can speak for the council based on communication with them that adamantly opposed. And yes, it died yesterday. Thankfully, hit died a very quick death. And, you know, we were talking about protecting property values, and I understand the fine line between private property rights and what affects, you know, what you do affects me on my property. So therefore, we have to have regulations in place to build quality, standard long lasting structures, and so not a good bill. I think in our opinion, especially those in municipal executive management, we want to be able to at least have input into, you know, we don't want to, you know, we don't want necessarily get too far, so as to maybe negatively manipulate market condition, but we definitely don't want to have the power stripped away from us. You know, national has the DRC, which is the development review committee, and they do that that's where they do our actual review, and they do design review, and they do they want to be able to do that continuing to do that. So that you know, things are a fit into what the nature of nationalism nationals will and most unique places in the country. So it has you have to fit in. So yeah, no, not a good bill. Glad. Glad it died, the death it did yesterday.

Unknown Speaker
We do have one email. But before we get to that, I just wanted to get any update on the vaccine. I know we're 60 and over today, this is Tuesday. For those to be able to register for the vaccine, any news from from Nashville Brown County on that process

Unknown Speaker
seems to be going smoothly, still at the Music Center. Get back, you know, when he as many people vaccinated as we can, we can get through this. And we'd like that Music Center to be a Music Center again. We can get it done.

Unknown Speaker
So here's an email in from Michael, he's a regular listener. He says the trees have been horribly trimmed back by either the utility company or the state highway department as you leave Nashville and head towards Bloomington. This cannot be called tree trimming. Rather, it looks like a bomb went off and just destroyed the trees. And it's terrible when pulling into Nashville, a town that is known for the parks and beauty of our state. So anything you can do to address this and correct it. So just wondering if there's anything you can help him with there or pass along?

Unknown Speaker
I guess we'll find out who's right away that printing is in and obviously if it's in town right away, yes, the town can certainly would certainly be able to speak to any contractor that does that work. I know a lot of when you're driving into Nashville and Brown County or on a state highway. So it could be I haven't seen that. necessarily what specifically, he's talking about certainly understand and we will we'll look into it and see if it's in town right away and see what we can do.

Unknown Speaker
Is that something in DOD, if it's a state highway,

Unknown Speaker
if it's in state highway right of way, and that would be responsible for any of that trimming, or it could also be the utility companies. So you know, the utility companies have easements for their lines. And they're responsible to maintain those easements and so it could be could very well be utility companies. There's so many different entities it could be involved in, in trimming trees and I have seen some horrid tree trimming lately in my drives around Indiana so I get I completely understand what the email are saying.

Unknown Speaker
Alright, that was all I had. Did you have any other announcements?

Unknown Speaker
No. Let's get to let's get to spring. And excuse me people vaccinated as we can and we're looking forward to a new 2021 season. So come and visit Nashville. It's a happy place. Great place to be

Unknown Speaker
speaking this spring and what is it 5453 today doesn't feel too bad.

Unknown Speaker
I've watched the snow disappear out this window all

Unknown Speaker
day. Thank you so much for being here. We'll see you next month. And for those listening. Don't forget, you can send your email question to news at Indiana public media.org. Thank you, DAX Norton for your time today.

Unknown Speaker
Thanks, Joe. For sure.
Nashville's Municipal Consultant Dax Norton

Nashville's Municipal Consultant Dax Norton on Tuesday's Zoom Interview (Zoom)

Winter storm woes, zoning permissions, new utility service, human rights committee approval, and who trims the trees coming into Nashville.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Nashville's Municipal Consultant Dax Norton addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: I just wanted to start with the winter storms this past week, what does it take and what does Nashville have to work with when it comes to snow removal?

Norton: It takes a lot of dedication from workers who go way beyond the expectation for them. We have a great team. They jump in those trucks, they stay in them for 12 hours, they go home and get their rest they need to get before they get back in the truck. Nashville just bought three new plow trucks. They came in handy. But everybody did a great job.

Hren: I want to get a little bit into zoning rezoning because our newsroom saw in the Brown County Democrat this past week about the circuit court denying a neighbor's request to stop a logging business from operating as well as a request to have the county pay her attorney fees. This due to a dispute between the neighbor and county zoning that agreed to an exemption to continue the business. Could you explain what's at issue?

Norton: Well you have county zoning ordinance you have a town zoning ordinance. The town is a member of the county area Planning Commission. Obviously this was a project outside of town limits, and the county Board of Zoning Appeals and county Planning Commission makes these decisions on whether somebody is operating their business within their rights in certain zoning designations.

Basically what's been said is that they're running their business as they should within that particular zone. As with planning and zoning, it's not just protect you from your neighbor, but it's also to allow you get the best use out of your land. And especially if you own a business that makes money, you want to make sure that you get that decision correct.

It's funny you bring that up. The town this Thursday is jumping into the plan to look at developing a new comprehensive plan. And the first step in planning and zoning is state statute requires you to have a comprehensive plan. And so the town's since 1999, hasn't developed one. And it's a 30 year plan, it'll be the guidebook for the development of the town.

Hren: Utilities will be important and other infrastructure as new plans and zoning continue, I see a new Nashville utilities service has been formed?

Norton: This is the very first utility service board. So back in October of 2019, it was suggested we should probably think about having utility service board because at the time the town was going through some legal issues with a water utility partner. And then there were some other items with with wastewater side.

So when you're talking about raising rates, the utility service board is a group of citizens who are not the council because right now the council was acting as the board that controlled the utility. It's basically a citizen group that is now a layer between the utility operations, then utility service board, and that board gives recommendations to the Council on everything from capital spending, to the hiring of management, to rate paces, and the point of this is to really make sure that utilities are running as a top notch corporation.

Too many times we see that just as another government office, it's actually a company. I mean, it brings in more money annually than the town budget. As a matter of fact, utilities bring in double the amount of revenue that the actual tax budget brings in annually. So let's make sure that we're running as professionally as we can.

Hren: Something we talked about last summer, the town council also approving a Human Rights Committee. What is new on that?

Norton: The Council passed a resolution to form a Citizens Action Committee, CAC, to begin the process of answering the question of where does the town go from here? Is it a full fledged Human Resources Commission that's created based on statute? So the Citizens Action Committee, I believe, have nine months. They've chose five people at the last council meeting to start the process of finding out what that next step is. And I think this is a very energetic group, they're looking forward to getting together and developing the next program of human relations here in Nashville, Brown County.

Trees along IN 46 near Nashville
Trees along IN-46 near Nashville. (Courtesy Photo)

Hren: Michael, he's a regular listener, emails in. He says the trees have been horribly trimmed back by either the utility company or the state highway department as you leave Nashville and head towards Bloomington. This cannot be called tree trimming. Rather, it looks like a bomb went off and just destroyed the trees. And it's terrible when pulling into Nashville, a town that is known for the parks and beauty of our state. So anything you can do to address this and correct it?

Norton: I guess we'll find out who's right-of-way that trimming is in and obviously if it's the town, yes, the town can certainly be able to speak to any contractor that does that work. I know a lot of when you're driving into Nashville and Brown County your on a state highway. So I haven't seen necessarily what specifically he's talking about. Certainly understand and we'll look into it and see what we can do.

If it's in state highway, INDOT would be responsible for any of that trimming, or it could also be the utility companies. The utility companies have easements for their lines. And they're responsible to maintain those easements and so it could very well be utility companies.

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