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The Carolina heelsplitter flexed its muscle again, leading to the resignation of four Lancaster County Planning Commission members on Thursday night.
Chairman Frankie Faile, who represents District 5, Val Marz of District 1, Tim Hinson of District 7 and Bobby Hegler of District 3 all resigned during the commission's monthly work session.
"Needless to say, we were a little shocked," said county Planning Director Chris Karres.
Faile said Friday that the commissioners didn't like how County Council chose to make a decision on regulations regarding the heelsplitter, an endangered mussel in Indian Land's Six Mile Creek.
The mussel is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The county must come up with regulations to protect the heelsplitter or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not permit further water and sewer construction in the Six Mile Creek basin. Without the installation of new utility lines, development in the area will stop.
Faile said he believes council bypassed the commission by coming up with a resolution instead of an ordinance.
"It's making the planning commission obsolete," Faile said. "If they're going to do everything by resolution, they don't need us. We're a non-effective board. We're figureheads with no authority."
The commission, an advisory board to County Council, makes recommendations to council on planning and zoning issues.
A resolution is more easily amended than an ordinance, which requires three readings by council. It was the best way to move forward in coming up with regulations for development in the Six Mile Creek basin, officials have said. This would allow the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District to build more water and sewer lines in the creek basin.
"The council didn't want the appearance that they weren't working or moving on this," Karres said. "The resolution was really so things could continue on."
Once everything in the resolution is finalized and any other changes are made in the proposed regulations, which include buffers of up to 200 feet around Six Mile Creek, council plans to vote on an ordinance for a heelsplitter overlay district. This ordinance will go to the planning commission for consideration.
"This thing has kind of been crammed down everybody's throat," said County Council Chairman Rudy Carter. "I'll take full responsibility, but it was never done intentionally. We wanted to get all the facts in place before it went to the planning commission."
Council debated the proposed resolution Monday, but postponed voting on it until its Jan. 28 meeting.
Namath Emory of District 4 and Vedia Hatfield of District 2 are the remaining members of the planning commission, which lacked a representative from District 6 before the four members resigned. Emory and Hatfield were absent from Thursday's meeting.
The planning commission meets the first Thursday of the month to go over cases and discuss items. It holds its regular meeting on the third Tuesday of each month.
"I don't think we'll be having a meeting Tuesday," Karres said. "I don't think that's going to happen."
Anyone interested in serving on the planning commission may call council clerk Irene Plyler at 285-1565 for an application. Those interested may also fill out an application online or give their County Council representative a call.
There are no qualifications for the position, just a willingness to serve and attend meetings twice a month.
"You've really got to want to do that job," Carter said.
Contact Jenny Hartley at 283-1151 or email@example.com