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Commission confused by variance vote

COVINGTON - Reconsideration of a Board of Zoning Appeals decision caused confusion amongst commissioners Tuesday night, as well as a brief confrontation between Chairman Aaron Varner and District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons.

A petition by Mark Abram for a variance to park commercial equipment on less than 10 acres at his property on 85 Avalon Road was approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals in July. But Abram's neighbors, Ken and Sarah Portocarrero, appealed that decision to the Board of Commissioners, saying their concerns were not adequately addressed by the zoning appeals board.

By Tuesday night, however, both sides had worked with the county arborist to come up with a plan to buffer the vehicles from view. The Portocarreros said they were satisfied and no longer in opposition to the petition, as long as the board approved the zoning conditions recommended by the arborist.

But District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said it took the county nearly a year to get its commercial vehicle ordinance in place, "and as of tonight, we have not broken our own rules on the 10-acre minimum."

Ewing then made a motion to deny the variance altogether, which passed. But then confusion ensued.

The Portocarreros initially asked for denial of the variance, so some commissioners thought it was their appeal that was being denied, meaning the variance was being approved. There was question over whether the wording of the motion should be changed.

After much back and forth, Varner said he would call a five-minute recess to confer with Jenny Carter, a lawyer with the County Attorney's Office.

District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons opposed the recess, interrupting Varner and saying, "I'm asking questions. I want to ask questions."

That prompted Varner to bang his gavel hard enough to make audience members jump.

"What's wrong with you?" Simmons yelled. "I don't know what your problem is."

"Go ahead and ask your questions," Varner said before walking into the hallway with Carter.

He came back a minute later and said he thought the matter of how to proceed was settled. A second vote resulted in the variance being denied 3-2.

"What do I do now?" Abram asked. "I don't think this is fair."

Abram said he was told by the county in 2001 that he was allowed to park his vehicles there and his petition stated that he and his family rely on the use of the tractor-trailer truck and additional trailers for income and it would be a hardship to pay for parking at an offsite location.

The county allows one commercial and one residential vehicle per lot and restricts heavier equipment to lots with 10 or more acres.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.