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Thread: Community input workshop/meeting during rezoning

  1. #1
    Cyburbian mallen's avatar
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    Community input workshop/meeting during rezoning

    We are considering adding a "Community Input Workshop/Meeting" during the rezoning process for one of our zoning districts (Infill Residential District). This would be a meeting in addition to the typical Planning Commission public meeting.

    In my mind the Planning Commission review process often fails us. Due to a number of factors (legal, practical, and others) Planning Commissions often do not allow for good constructive negotiation. (I know that is not the case everywhere).

    Right now our typical rezoning process is as follows: Staff Receives Rezoning Application, Staff Creates Staff Report/Recommendation, Staff Notifies Adjacent Property Owners and Erects Sign (public is now on notice), Planning Commission Holds Public Hearing (about 2 weeks after public notification), City Council Holds Public Hearing and votes on the applicantion. Pretty standard procedure.

    But by the time the applicant gets to the Planning Commission (ie designated public input point), many of the developers ideas are relatively defined. That creates additional tension between the applicant and the community. That tension often fuels the tone of discussion between the groups from that point forward. Futhermore, the Planning Commission meeting is a relatively formal setting where constructive give and take between the community and the applicant really doesn't happen. Opposition simply gets up to the podium and lists off the standard objections.

    At some point in the process, mostly likely before the Planning Commission meeting, we are considering adding a required "Community Input Workshop" or something to that effect. In my mind, the applicant would be required to attend and present to the community their concept (I'm not even sure city staff would attend). No action would be taken. No consent by the community is necessarily required. It is simply a project kick-off and opportunity to engage in informal negotiation before the project gets into the formal rezoning process.

    Do any of you use this type of process? What recommendations can you make?

    Practical questions that I have include:

    Should staff attend? If so, what role?

    Should it occur before the rezoning application is submitted? After? Before or after staff creates our own recommendation?

    How long between said meeting and the Planning Commission meeting?

    Does it actually work or does it simply stack the deck against the applicant?

    Thanks for your input.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mallen View post
    At some point in the process, mostly likely before the Planning Commission meeting, we are considering adding a required "Community Input Workshop" or something to that effect. In my mind, the applicant would be required to attend and present to the community their concept (I'm not even sure city staff would attend). No action would be taken. No consent by the community is necessarily required. It is simply a project kick-off and opportunity to engage in informal negotiation before the project gets into the formal rezoning process.

    Do any of you use this type of process? What recommendations can you make?
    We have this requirement. I would say it works to the extent that the public is informed early in the process and (potentially) has the opportunity to provide input to the developer so that they can structure their project in a responsive way. In reality, these sessions are not usually for input, but are simply the developer telling the public what they plan to do and why it will be great for everyone. Its generally a sell-job done because they are required to, not usually because they are looking for input.

    In a broader sense, though, I think it is the developer's responsibility to engage with the public early on anyway. Its their own fault, IMO, if they get all the way to City Council without considering local concerns about their project. They need to know what the opposition will be ahead of time and the only way to gauge that is to deal with the immediate residents in some fashion. I think any experienced developer would tell you the same thing.

    I don't think staff should attend this meeting between developer and the public. There is no reason for it and the essence is for those two parties to air their objectives and concerns to frame a project that benefits as many people as possible.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Interesting. In most juristictions I work in as a developer, these types of meetings are not required per se. But a developer who has not met with the adjacent or surrounding community is usually toast in front of the pc or board.

    So we perceive this as already part of the process.

    Typically we meet with surrounding property owners, hoa's etc, on our own invitation such that it is an applicant meeting. The staff may or may not be invited, depends, but its is always clear that it is the developers meeting, not staff's.

    I think it always better instead of at kick off of a process, to have it somewhere in the middle--perhaps after staff comments are recieved but before proceeding to PC hearing.

    I am not a fan of "requiring" the meeting. I think it's at the applicant's risk. If the pc and elected clearly prefer this meeting take place, applicants will sceduled the meetings. At least in the environment I work in currently.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mallen's avatar
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    Thanks for your input.

    I agree that the developer could and should probably do this on their own. But they usually don't.

    Our rezoning process is pretty speedy around here (about 60 days total). Some citizens contend that they don't necessarily object to the project, but there is no effective way for meaningful input.

    Around here, developers tend to wait until the Planning Commission meeting to guage the scene and determine the level of opposition. Then they will try to engage the public if necessary. But by that point, it is usually a lost cause for public support. Individuals have been forced to stake out a position at the Planning Commission and are hesitant to back away from it.

    I'm trying to find/create a more collaborative process. If this meeting turns into a dog and pony show, then so be it. But the community cannot contend that they are being blindsided.

    Any other thoughts?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ahh.....

    Most places I've worked, we would always ask for a neighborhood meeting to be held in a central location near the site after work hours for the developer to answer questions from the public and home owners groups. This neighborhood meeting requirement has worked well. Staff would have a representative in attendance with a copy of the Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map. If the proposal matches the Future Land Use Map, it makes the staff position fairly easy. If you really want to drive a developers planner nuts, make them send letters to everyone within 1 mile of the development..... BY CERTIFIED MAIL.... .......tell them RJ on Cyburbia suggested this..... (I don't want to have to worry every time I start my car for the next 10 years....ha ha ha....)
    Skilled Adoxographer

  6. #6
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One View post
    If you really want to drive a developers planner nuts, make them send letters to everyone within 1 mile of the development..... BY CERTIFIED MAIL....
    Ha! We do that one, too. Very popular with the developers...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I've not ever lived or worked in communities that *required* this, though I've been in at least one community where developers were completely toast if they were foolish enough not to contact neighborhood residents ahead of time. (On two occasions in that community, neighbors actually pushed for *more* density and, in one case, less parking lot than the developers had initially proposed - and also for better architecture.)

    There was recently one such meeting in my current community between my neighborhood association and a prospective buyer of some properties. In this case, I lamented that no city staff were there, as I think some of the residents' fears might have been allayed by a staffer who could authoritatively answer questions about zoning and about the site plan review / special land use process. As it was, the session was extremely rough for the prospective buyer.

  8. #8
          bluehour's avatar
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    ohhhh, this thread is making me flashback to standing at the front of a room of neighbourhood objectors, powerpoint presentation in hand....

    I agree with wahdah's point that the level of consultation should be up to the developer-- it doesn't necessarily need to be regulated by the gov't. The developer is not spending the time and money to consult at their own risk-- they are making the decision to consult or not that could ultimately effect their planning permission. Its a gamble.

    we would almost always advice extensive public consultation, but many developers don't want to. so it's thier fault when they stumble into a hornet's nest.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    We don't do this, but I have a couple of suggestions:

    Hide the podium and do it in an open house setting, preferably with all parties sitting around a table, or if you expect quite a few people, have a couple of tables with information and representatives so that they can talk to more than one group of people at a time.

    I remember one open house where an "angry mob" showed up and was furious that there were no chairs set up and no podium where their mobleader could address them. They went and pulled out stacks of folding chairs out of a closet and set up their own little meeting in the middle of our open house.

    The most productive meetings are when parties are sitting around a table. Obviously there is a limit to the number of people you can accommodate this way.

    I think staff has to be at neighborhood/developer meeting to take notes on the concerns that the citizens have and on what the developers promise. Citizens also deserve to have staff present for bashing purposes.

    PS: I think Santa Fe, NM may have a neighborhood meeting requirement in their zoning ordinance. Not 100% sure on that though.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Our process is this: We accept an application and the public hearing request goes on the PC agenda. At that first meeting, the PC sets the public hearing for the 2nd PC meeting. Fifteen days before the public hearing, notices have to be sent out to property owners and occupants, as well as a notice published in the paper. The public hearing happens, the PC makes a recommendation to Council, and then it goes to the Council twice.

    Maybe I am looking at this wrong, but how you choose to proceed will depend on your enabling legislation. I'm in Michigan, and in my city we don't ask for detailed information, or present any information other than what the actual request is. If they want to rezone from Multi-Family to say Commercial, they would be able to develop that property into any allowable use in that district and no conditions could be placed on approval. We do a good job of informing the public of that point because a lot of times the developer state the minimum and make promises that we can't legally obligate them to. They could potentially want a rezoning to commercial and say that it is only for an office building that will be open 8-5 M-F, and then after approval do whatever is allowed in that district (bid box, car lot, whatever). We don't want their intentions and promises to sway the public or PC to accept the request when in reality it maybe doesn't meet the future land use map and master plan. We review the request as though they want to do the most intensive land use in that district. In my opinion, if you want to have public input into a rezoning and be able to place conditions on the approval, amend your ordinance to allow the use as a special use in that district.

    Now, I should say, that a few years back, legislation was passed that enables municipalites to enter into contract zoning (or conditional rezoning, whatever you want to call it). However, the statute is quite clear that the applicant has to request the conditional rezoning and provide the list of conditions, and the PC cannot require any additional conditions. In this instance I would think a preliminary neighborhood meeting would be beneficial to the developer and the PC in order to determine those things that need to be addressed.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Wildono's avatar
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    Tacoma

    The City of Tacoma has standard mailing of public notice to neighbors in close proximity to the project site, but also encourages (not requires) outreach to the neighborhood council organization representing the area in which a project is located. Planners can argue that value is added to projects through inclusive public processes taken on early, but most developers aren't willing to invest the time and energy until a project looks like it might die in public hearings.
    "That guy handles the puck like a cow handles a gun!" - Mike Lange

  12. #12
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    community input

    Not engaging with the community doesn't work. Any remenant of respect staff may have with the public is not helped by either not consulting actively or leaving it late in the process. For what its worth, the podium approach is just an excuse for planner-bashing or developer bashing.....both may happen anyway but using the round table, workshop approach with discussion can give rise to a useful input to any process.

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