An idea tossed around since the 2050 Plan was unveiled – to submit it to a voter referendum – just doesn’t seem possible, attorney Jenny Carter of W M Thomas Craig Attorneys wrote in an opinion presented to the plan’s designers and local elected officials.
Her report makes three points:
• “A zoning ordinance can only be adopted by the County in compliance with the Zoning Procedures Law.”
• “State law does not authorize a ‘straw poll’ referendum prior to the adoption of a zoning ordinance. Since a county cannot spend funds for a referendum without authorization, local legislation would be needed authorizing the County to hold an advisory referendum.
• But the state constitution does allow 10 percent of voters in a county to petition for a referendum to “amend or repeal County ordinances or resolutions.” Plus, a 1984 Georgia attorney general opinion says that process can be used for zoning ordinance. That said, “there is also a 1998 Georgia Supreme Court case that limits a similar procedure that applies to cities,” and the “reasoning used by the Court seems to be equally applicable to counties.”
In conclusion, “there may be a procedure available for a referendum on the amendment or repeal of a zoning ordinance, but with respect to counties the issue has not been addressed by the courts,” she wrote.
Her paper was made available to elected officials prior to Tuesday’s fourth public hearing on the plan. Opponents have frequently called for a referendum on the plan.