Hidden Cleveland: County Planning Office: Thomas: Basic rules dictate development
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Jun 26, 2014 | 1084 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bradley County Planning Director Bentley Thomas sits at his desk in front of a county map. Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES
Bradley County Planning Director Bentley Thomas sits at his desk in front of a county map. Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES
Tucked away in a corner of the County Annex basement is an office which determines quite a bit about the community in which you live.

That is where the County Planning Office is located, and it is through those doors where determinations are made on exactly what, where and how constructions and developments can be made.

“What we do here in Bradley County is about as basic as you can get when it comes to planning, regulations or zoning,” said County Planner Bentley Thomas. “I don’t think it’s overreaching.”

He uses the example that “no one wants an adult book store next to a church.”

“Those things are dictated by zoning resolutions, which are land use regulations,” Thomas said.

One of the good reasons for subdivision regulations comes from road development.

“There are places with open right of ways and landlocked pieces of property which create major issues in the future when people are trying to get building codes and access to their property,” he said.

Thomas said a major part of what the office does is to try to take care of problems “on the front end.”

“We do that by making sure each lot has adequate square footage, has road frontage and has proper soils for septic if they don’t have access to sewage,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re problem solvers on the front end.”

Thomas said there are also efforts to help correct problems created prior to the zoning regulations that were put into place in 1998.

“A lot of the problems you see were done before the regulations were adopted,” he said.

“There were subdivision developers who would go out, survey a piece of property, go to the Registrar’s Office and record the property,” he said.

“The roads were never dedicated as county roads and there were no standards set as to what had to be done and how to do it.”

Now the regulations are set, the planning office helps developers in assuring they are doing everything as set in the county’s requirements — therefore saving the developers both time and money as well as protecting the rights of the neighbors and neighborhoods where development might be taking place.

“We try to be good stewards and help county citizens as much as possible,” Thomas said.

He said there is always a balance to be made between too much regulation and no regulation at all.

Thomas said he understands the often-stated gripe by property owners when they have to seek planning approval to do something on land which has been in their family for decades or longer.

“There are codes and statutes from state law we have to uphold as well,” Thomas said. “That includes us not being allowed [to issue] building permits on certain lots when they have no access to roads.”

He said there was a time he would be the first person to question what he does — before he became a planner himself.

“I grew up on a 350-acre farm in the head of a cove, and I always wanted to build way up in the head of the cove,” Thomas said. “My granddad gave all of his grandchildren two acres, but my two acres was off the county road. I would have been the first one to say, ‘Well, it’s my property. I should be able to do whatever I want to with it.’”

Thomas said having been a planner, he now better sees how some of the “craziest situations and configurations” help him better understand why there is a need for basic, fundamental planning regulations.

“Explaining that sometimes is not simple,” he said. “It’s trying to accomplish good, sound, fundamental development.”

Thomas said one of the hardest parts of the office is telling people “no.”

“I’m a people person, and I always try to explain why they need to do things a certain way,” he said. “If you respect people’s opinions and thoughts, the results are usually positive.”