HANCOCK COUNTY — The Hancock County Area Plan Commission has backpedaled on a decision to prohibit residents from making anonymous complaints about their neighbor’s property.
At the commission’s most recent meeting, members voted to allow residents to file a grievance about a neighbor’s property at the county’s zoning office without giving their names.
That decision followed an announcement in May when board members agreed residents should be required to appear in person and show a valid ID when reporting a problem. That discussion began after a group of neighbors approached county officials with similar problems; each had tried to address a complaint made against them only to learn the caller had used a fake name.
County officials say feedback from residents about the policy change was so negative, they decided to revisit the issue.
Some people won’t formally complain about their neighbor, fearing confrontation if they are identified — one resident called, nearly in tears, saying she worried about possible backlash, officials said.
For years, county officials have debated what information to require from residents making complaints. Should the county honor anonymous complaints? Should they require ID?
Watchful neighbors are the only way county officials learn of a possible property violation; the zoning office doesn’t patrol the county searching for issues, officials say. Any time a neighbor makes a complaint, the zoning office investigates the property to determine whether it’s in violation of county rules, said Bill Bolander, a county councilman who serves on the plan commission.
Property owners who receive notices from the zoning office are those who are breaking zoning rules. The focus should be on addressing the problem rather than worrying about the source of the complaint, Bolander said.
But Janet Feeny, one of the dozen neighbors who approached officials after someone used an incomplete name to file a report about her property, said property owners should be able to address neighbors who have a grievance.
Feeny plans to bring up the issue at the commission’s next meeting on Tuesday.
“There’s no reason they should be taking anonymous complaints,” Feeny said. “It’s not right. … People are frustrated.”
Commissioner Marc Huber, who also serves on the plan commission, said he had to leave the last meeting early, before the commission talked about the complaint procedure.
He had pushed for stricter rules when the group of neighbors who live in his district, complained, he said.
County officials have gone back and forth over the years regarding anonymous complaints, first allowing them, then requiring those with grievances to give a name.
Huber said he doesn’t believe it’s too much to ask those with a problem to come to Greenfield to make a complaint in order to verify who they are.
Ultimately, he’d prefer neighbors solve issues on their own before involving county officials.
“My stance is, everybody who owns a house is an adult. If you have a problem with your neighbor, go talk to them,” he said.
The Hancock County Area Plan Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the courthouse annex, 111 American Legion Place, Greenfield.