Last year, voters living in the Athens Township portion of The Plains decided their town would be better if it had zoning regulations. Those regulations are now in effect and Steve Pierson is the guy mainly responsible for everyone toeing the line.
Pierson is an Athens Township trustee with plenty of experience in the zoning game. He spent 23 years enforcing such laws in Athens and Nelsonville.
“A zoning inspector has not been hired,” Pierson told me. “I am handling those duties at the moment.”
And he’s been busy. Over the past couple of months Pierson has dealt with more than 40 complaints and permits. Some of those have been noteworthy. Others, not so much.
Perhaps the most significant case was the new construction at The Plains Intermediate School. That ended up going before the Zoning Board of Appeals. More numerous were the cases involving trash and fences and such.
“I don't know how many residents are aware of zoning,” Pierson said. “The Plains didn't get the way it is overnight, and zoning is only one tool to turn things around, but that won't happen overnight either.”
Zoning advocates believe it will preserve the character of The Plains and guide its development for the benefit of its citizens. The mission statement of the Zoning Commission talks about “neighborhood preservation and economic sustainability.” The Plains also has a comprehensive plan which thinks ahead for the next 30 years. It was drafted by a consultant to help the community “grow and prosper and be a fine place for our children and our children’s children to call home.”
More than 3000 people live in The Plains, which is unincorporated. The town has more residents than any of the eight incorporated villages in Athens County. And the town is growing.
Topping the list of business activity is the proposed construction of a health center. Hopewell Health has submitted a site plan for the Appalachian Family Life Center for review and will need to ask for rezoning.
“It is currently zoned Open Space and that does not allow business use,” Pierson said. “The request will probably be for B-1, Neighborhood Business, which would cover most of Hopewell's programs.”
Also planned are a couple other projects — a new county 911 center and a new Head Start preschool. Both would be on Connett Road. How much longer Pierson functions as a zoning inspector in The Plains is not clear.
“Recently there was discussion between the Athens City-County Health Department, the Athens County Sheriff's Office and the Athens Township Trustees about each contributing to an employee that could serve the needs of all three groups,” Pierson said. “Many of the cases would be property/premise condition driven complaints such as improperly stored trash, inoperable/unlicensed/junk motor vehicles, illegal dumping, etc.”
The discussion also involved the county prosecutor's office and Probate Court Judge Zach Saunders. Saunders was legal counsel for the Zoning Commission during the writing of the code.
The Athens Township Trustees have committed $25,000 toward a combination position and there was talk about the sheriff and the Health Department doing the same, making $75,000 available for funding of a position. No further discussions are scheduled.
Meanwhile, anyone with a zoning issue should contact Pierson. He’s created a new email account for that purpose: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fred Kight is a retired newsman who now does some freelance reporting. Before deciding to take life easy he worked for nearly 40 years in radio news.