How can you describe a year like 2020? The pandemic pandemonium has certainly been a year of extremes, constantly adapting to ever-changing regulations, recommendations, and executive orders. Every person and business has faced challenges this year. Our community is resilient and always seems to find a way through the rough times together. This is inspiring and keeps us going through the toughest of times. In this year of extremes, let’s take a moment to both commiserate and celebrate together.
In March, when things got really real, we had to adjust our business practices and do a quick pivot based on prescribed executive orders and public health recommendations. We closed our office to the public, sent most of our staff to work from home, and suspended activity for all of our boards. Pivoting to new ways of doing things is usually not a very quick process for a government office. The old cliché “the wheels of government turn slow” is more often the case than not. In just a few short weeks, and several government mandates later, we implemented a system for remote offices, electronic submittals, online payments, virtual public hearings, digital signatures, and pandemic protocols all while fitting within an already approved budget. Of course we all thought those items would be temporary measures, but they are all still in place today. In fact, it will be more of an adjustment going back to the way things were before, or rather, establishing a new normal.
Public hearings have been the most challenging. Learning new virtual tools, sourcing cameras, microphones and speakers, figuring out how to advertise a virtual public hearing, and making sure participants have the easiest possible way to participate was the initial challenge. Once that was navigated, we then had to figure out the flow of the new meeting style. Seemingly simple things like mute and unmute, background noise, feedback, learning when to speak and not speak, and the general production of the show were the next set of challenges. This will never be perfect in our current virtual meeting format, but it is working. Patience seems to be the biggest asset. The largest challenge for the public, with no easy answer, is the lack of reliable broadband internet in Warren County. If we had a magic wand, this would be one item to use it on. Please support efforts by the Fiscal Court, state legislators, and others to continue to build this infrastructure.
In keeping with the extremes theme, despite all the challenges, we ended 2020 with the second highest total of activity. Due to the quick pivot by staff, applicants and the community, only one public hearing was missed and only two applications were postponed, yet to be heard. You can see our numbers for 2020 in our Planning Commission Numbers article. Our community has had great economic success despite the pandemic. We feel fortunate to have worked with the Chamber of Commerce in rezoning hundreds of acres of industrial land and development applications which has been very fruitful. The community has also approved the third highest number of single family lots in our recorded history that will be homes for current and future Warren County residents. While all of this growth is not without its challenges, it is good fortune in the face of the pandemic negatives.
Work together as a community, support your local businesses however you can (especially restaurants) until the challenges pass and we all adjust to our new normal. Until then, it will be business as (the new) usual for the Planning Commission. If anyone has ideas on how we can better serve our community, please let us know (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).