Unincorporated residents get more representation in zoning plans

Pictured above: A map of the unincorporated portions of south St. Louis County.

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com

Officials in St. Louis County are looking at various initiatives to give unincorporated county residents more representation on the county Planning Commission and in local zoning decisions.

The St. Louis County Planning Commission only governs zoning for unincorporated areas of the county, but by law is required to have a third of its members from county cities. But those cities have their own local zoning boards, while unincorporated areas only have the county.

The County Council is considering legislation that would require that all members of the Planning Commission reside in unincorporated St. Louis County.

Tim Fitch

The legislation, introduced by 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch, R-Fenton, calls for an election in April 2020 to amend the section of the county Charter that pertains to the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment to require that all members of the commission and board be unincorporated county residents.

Currently the county Charter states that the Planning Commission, which is comprised of nine members, will be made up of six members from unincorporated St. Louis County and three members from municipalities.

“The commission only rules on issues in the unincorporated areas of the county,” said Fitch in an interview with The Call. “I live in an unincorporated area of the county outside of Fenton. I can’t serve on Fenton’s Planning and Zoning Commission. But a Fenton resident can serve on the county Planning Commission even though they only decide unincorporated issues.”

Fitch acknowledged that people who live in municipalities around unincorporated areas can be impacted by decisions the Planning Commission makes, but that there are still avenues for municipal input on unincorporated plans, such as attending a Planning Commission public hearing to speak on proposed projects in unincorporated portions of the county. However, the “final decisions should be made by people in those jurisdictions (unincorporated county),” said Fitch.

The county Charter Commission, which is tasked with coming up with amendments to the Charter, has suggested a similar proposal to remove municipal representation on the Planning Commission.

The proposal was sent to the county counselor’s office Aug. 28 to be drafted for a final vote of approval to be placed on the ballot. But as of Sept. 24, a draft had not been returned to the commission.

Fitch said that he has held his own legislation thus far to see what happens with the Charter Commission’s proposal. For a Charter Commission’s amendment to be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people, nine out of the 14 commission members must approve it.

Fitch said that he is currently not confident that the Commission’s proposal will make it to the ballot, so introducing his own piece of legislation that says essentially the same thing will ensure that it makes it onto the ballot in some way.