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Thread: Contentious, non-productive public hearings; need help

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    Contentious, non-productive public hearings; need help

    Request for your help:

    I am preparing an article for the Planning Commissioners Journal focusing on the situation described below. I would welcome feedback on ways of improving on the following all-too-common scenario.

    Contentious, non-productive public hearings:

    Many planning commissioners, at least occasionally, have had the experience of arriving at a public hearing to find a large crowd of citizens angry about a proposed development in their neighborhood. Often the hearing begins with a lengthy presentation by the applicant's architects, engineers, planners, and (sometimes) lawyers explaining the merits of their project and why it must be approved -- followed by a line of residents coming to the microphone to highlight a lengthy list of problems with the project. And often, the temperature in the meeting room feels like it's rising.

    Planning commissioners often feel thrust into the middle of controversial projects. Yes, it is their job to decide (or recommend) on the application, but they may ask themselves why many issues between the developer and neighborhood haven't been resolved in advance. At some public hearings, planning commissioners may wish they could call a time out and get the two sides to sit down and work out some of the issues.

    Looking for your feedback on the following:

    1. are there pre-hearing approaches your community takes to identify projects likely to be controversial, and then seek to resolve some of the contentious developer/community issues?

    I'm interested in hearing about approaches ranging from: neighborhood association review; other forms of informal dialogue and meetings; sketch plan review; community-developer advance agreements; the use of staff comments & recommendations; and anything else that has worked to resolve (or reduce) disputed issues in advance of the required public hearing.

    Also, are there methods (or criteria) you use in advance to identify projects likely to be controversial? Or do you just know?

    2. more productive hearings --
    • are there approaches you've used to design more productive public hearings?
    • are there alternatives to the familiar sequence of staff overview; developer project presentation; public testimony; commissioner question period?
    • do you require the developer to make available models of the project or other visuals?
    • how do you most effectively allow for both public and planning commissioner input?
    • do you ever table projects (in effect, calling a time out) and then set up an informal process for resolving certain issues?

    I'd welcome your feedback on any of the above -- or on other points you feel would be worth covering in the article I'm preparing.

    If there's someone with expertise in the field you feel I might interview, please let me know their name and, if you have it, their email address and phone number. If you'd be willing/interesting in speaking with me over the phone, please let me know by email (editor@plannersweb.com) or by Cyburbia messaging.
    Wayne Senville, Editor
    PlannersWeb.com / Planning Commissioners Journal
    P.O. Box 4295, Burlington, VT 05406

    Website: www.plannersweb.com/
    Linkedin:www.linkedin.com/in/waynesenville
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanningJournal
    email: pcjoffice@gmail.com


  2. #2
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by pcjournal View post

    1. are there pre-hearing approaches your community takes to identify projects likely to be controversial, and then seek to resolve some of the contentious developer/community issues?

    I'm interested in hearing about approaches ranging from: neighborhood association review; other forms of informal dialogue and meetings; sketch plan review; community-developer advance agreements; the use of staff comments & recommendations; and anything else that has worked to resolve (or reduce) disputed issues in advance of the required public hearing.
    In many of the communities I have worked, currently work we do all of the above. IMO, it is a losing battle. The same few people show up for the workshops. sorry to say, but in my experience most community members dont really care until the bulldozers are showing up to the site.

    In my neighborhood where i live in Philly, the civic association does courtesy reviews, but try getting a developer to take their recommendation seriously if it goes against what they want to do.

  3. #3
    We don't use any pre-hearing approaches. Some developers have chosen to meet with neighbors prior to a public hearing, but that's of their own initiative and it isn't binding on any of the parties.

    We do have our chairman/president spend a reasonable amount of time explaining the process before contentious dockets begin. For example, with subdivisions, we cover state statutory laws that favor subdivision and what happens if the PC denies a preliminary plat. (By state statute, we are obligated to advise the applicant of what fails to meet our subdivision control ordinance so that they can come into compliance. When the revised preliminary meets the ordinance, the Plan Commission then takes over a ministerial duty and must approve the prelim. plat.) We cover not only the process we use during the hearing (the classic system: staff report, developer, neighbors, comments) but what happens after the hearing.

    I'm fortunate right now that I have a chairman and a president that both have good judgment and a willingness to use their gavel. They both also frequently use a phrase such as "Okay, we've heard about various drainage and traffic concerns. Does anybody have anything besides those issues?" This works exceedingly well at keeping the meeting from devolving into a long parade of complainers at the podium.

    Last, we have used tabling to help cool temperatures down, but then only when the Plan Commission has some element that seems to be a "deal breaker" and they want the staff to work with the applicant to see if there's some way to make it palatable for all parties. (I don't much care for this tactic because the developer often gets the feeling that if they satisfy staff then the Board or PC will also go along. When they don't go along I get the grief.)

    Even with all this, there are still meetings where I wish we had a police officer present.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 05 Aug 2008 at 3:56 PM. Reason: tie poes
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    At some point in the past before I got to Kansasland, our Planning Commission began holding a "Study Session" the meeting before the public hearing. The staff gives a brief report for the project: Mr. X wants to do Y at property Z. The PC then has an opportunity to ask questions of Staff and the Applicant.

    Our PC is pretty good at identifying things that could possibly be contentious, so they will send us back to the office with a laundry list of things they want addressed during the Public Hearing. At the end of the public hearing, the property owner/applicant is always given a chance to rebut any statements, and the staff is given a chance to address any of the issues that speakers may have brought up.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Our planning commission often requires developers to hold public meetings with area residents and property owners before considering a project.

    Our state department of transportation holds informational open houses immediately prior to each official public hearing. State and local staff are available to help review maps and answer questions. This seems to dispel a lot of the misinformation and limit some of the anger during the public comment period.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by anf View post
    At some point in the past before I got to Kansasland, our Planning Commission began holding a "Study Session" the meeting before the public hearing. The staff gives a brief report for the project: Mr. X wants to do Y at property Z. The PC then has an opportunity to ask questions of Staff and the Applicant.
    Do members of the public also attend the Study Sessions; and, if so, can they participate and ask questions?

    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    Our planning commission often requires developers to hold public meetings with area residents and property owners before considering a project.
    Is that required in your ordinance, or in the planning commission's bylaws, or is it just done when staff or the commission feels it would be helpful? And how effective has this been in resolving or narrowing issues in advance?
    Last edited by Gedunker; 06 Aug 2008 at 8:56 AM. Reason: seq. replies
    Wayne Senville, Editor
    PlannersWeb.com / Planning Commissioners Journal
    P.O. Box 4295, Burlington, VT 05406

    Website: www.plannersweb.com/
    Linkedin:www.linkedin.com/in/waynesenville
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanningJournal
    email: pcjoffice@gmail.com


  7. #7
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I wish an attorney would chime in. My take is that you are on thin ice requiring a pre-meeting. Most statutes proscribe the process. Anything beyond that is NOT required. You can have your study sessions, you can have sub-committees pre-review projects: but contentious meetings are part of the dirty world of open local government.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    As do we

    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    Our planning commission often requires developers to hold public meetings with area residents and property owners before considering a project.
    Our muni requires neighborhood meetings for all general plan amendments and rezonings. It is in our code. We also suggest that developers take the time to talk to the neighbors most affected by their actions and spend extra time explaining the project and the process to them.

    Time limits on public comments work well. I've seen limits range from two to five minutes. An organized and confident chair also helps.

    I'm currently tasked with a project that is very contentious and have suffered through three non-statutory screech-fests primed by a 70 year old woman with a vocabulary like a sea pirate (my apologies to sea pirates). All I do as staff is reiterate the facts of the case and let the chips fall where they may. Personally, I prefer to let everyone say their piece and then have commission/council vote. If people have been provided an opportunity to be heard in a public forum and are thanked for participating, they are generally better at swallowing a decision they may not like. I am fortunate that I have a visionary planning commission and town council that trusts me. I don't abuse that trust.

  9. #9
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Hi Wayne -

    in Maine, subdivision includes a first step in the process called a sketch plan which is as the term implies - our ordinance allows the Planning Board to direct staff (me) to hold a neighborhood meeting on a project - they usually make the call based upon how many people are in the room for the application and how concerned they are in their comments

    Our Planned Unit Development ordinance requires this meeting

    they seem to be effective in flushing out the issues outside the hearing process - but they can backfire too as they often give abutters a sense of empowerment that they don't have - the final review, deliberation and decision rests with the Planning Board and often when the Planning Board approves something the neighbors didn't like but met the Ordinance, there is animosity at the end

    another layer that helps is the site visit because it allows discussions to be a little more informal but the above warning remains and I often am the conversation police that makes sure there isn't any unintentional ex parte communication

    in theory, the time for neighborhood meetings and get together's is the creation of the comprehensive plan and then the writing of the zoning so that by the time permitting happens, it really is a done deal because it's already been hashed out during the creation of the plan and its zoning - but it doesn't always work that way -

    why? sometimes the zoning as written has unintended consequences we didn't anticipate, or, you can have a change in Board members, a turnover of residents and sometimes change is hard for people, even if they were part of the comp plan process

    so it's not a simple answer but I do think generally that meetings outside the hearing process are a good thing but staff needs to make sure people understand the bottom line - also, the comp plan and the zoning need to correlate to what the neighborhood wants

    feel free to PM me

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Don't know if this will help but from the "other" side I can tell you that it would help if PC members knew what they were supposed to be doing for the community instead of just seeing the side of the private land owner or developer who has money invested as adjoining or near-by affected landowners have money invested too. Not being planners or lawyers, PC members should be required to have a working knowledge of what planning is and the existing ordinances for the government they are representing and make an attempt at being less than arbitrary in their decisions. Perhaps then a public hearing wouldn't be so contentious. For example, last year a guy bought the lot zoned residential right behind mine and several other properties. He wanted to rezone it industrial. The existing ordinance didn't allow an industrial lot to be less than 20,000 sq. ft which the lot was. The PC voted to recommend to Council to change the zone even after it was pointed out to them that the property simply wasn't big enough. Their whole reason was that at least the grass would be kept cut on the lot. The affected property owners were rightly incensed. Workshops or tutorials for new PC members on what their duties entailed as well as a read of the existing ordinances wouldn't have allowed such a travesty.

    Hope that helps.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Oh Yeah.....

    If I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand times, study sessions and work sessions are a great way to prepare the Commissioners for controversial issues. If they have to be published or posted due to open meeting laws, then publish or post them, but have rules about how the discussion takes place at this level, away from the public hearing format. For some unfathomable reason, the last two jurisdictions I've worked for, haven't agreed to this concept. Arvada, Colorado and Adams County Colorado are/were two great examples of how this could work at the City Council level and Planning Commission/BOA levels.

    Another great way to cut down on the reactionary stuff at public meetings is to ensure that a well noticed neighborhood meeting takes place and is conducted by the applicant with staff in attendance. This will provide a place for issues to get vetted without wasting a Planning Commissions time dealing with issues a developer may be readily able to solve up front.

    I've even held worksessions on site with the entire Planning Commission before, in special cases. This takes a lot of time and effort for staff, as well as the Commission.
    Last edited by The One; 06 Aug 2008 at 12:58 PM. Reason: You have a 5 second head start.....start running!
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  12. #12
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    One idea our county PC had was to post a sign on the property that was coming in for a hearing so that all neighbors in the area would know it was being considered at the PC for a zone change or subdivision or PUD. Our PC also notifies all adjoining property owners with letters. This assures an openness to the process and helps defuse statements that "we didn't know" about ...
    Our PC website also posts the staff reports on their website PRIOR to the meetings. Information helps put the discussion on a more intelligent level. Neighbors frequently have a few spokepersons- that helps eliminate repetition too.
    ORGANIZATION is key- bot by the PC , the applicant, and the opponents.

  13. #13
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    We strive for "transparent" government: we post on the location 30 days in advance of a hearing, we send certified mailing to all within 300' of property (subtracting public ROW), we post notices all over the Village, and we place a public packet in the lobby well in advance of the meeting. It doesn't help.

    Proposers are always asked at the hearings if they talked to the neighbors (affected parties) and for a report on the outcome of meetings they had. It doesn't help. We allow affected parties to address the applicant and to cross examine. It doesn't help.

    There are gadflies who think the world awaits their opinion on every topic. They stir the pot, riling up neighbors before the application is even heard. They convince the neighborhood that the government is evil and the staff is in cahoots with the applicant. They sound as if they have knowledge, when in reality they proof-text the ordinances and cherry pick fragments of the regulations to make some point or other. Mostly they are anti-development, anti-growth, anti-commerce... just anti-everything that needs approval in a public hearing.

    It's excruciatingly frustrating. However, to give in and just throw one's hands in the air after yet another angry, irrational, forum for lying liars who tell lies, would be to surrender to those who choose to tear down rather than lift up. These folks have no interest in suggesting improvements in the plans presented, or ways to make it more useful to the public; they only want to slow down or stop whatever is being proposed. They also want to emphasize that staff is incompetent, stupid, lazy, and obviously doesn't know how do perform the jobs assigned.

    So why do we planners keep bloodying our poor heads in this futile exercise? Perhaps because we're forever optimistic that some good will come out of all this muck.
    Last edited by CCT; 07 Aug 2008 at 1:06 PM. Reason: typos

  14. #14
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    The neighborhood meeting approach has to be taken with some caution for a couple of reasons:

    1. The neighborhood residents should not be allowed to dictate the design. Most of the concerns on a development project are going to be related to density or intensity (i.e. residents will always want the least amount of density, traffic impacts and stormwater, while the developer wants the highest density.) Staff is the go between. Therefore, residents may provide some good ideas about how to buffer the development or reduce the direct impacts.

    2. You don't want to get into a situation where you have to have a neighborhood meeting for every little development project. I ran into this while doing some consulting work, where my client was simply trying to put a parking lot in between his building and the building next door so that he could open a restaurant. The propert was already zoned for the restaurant, but he had to do a neighborhood meeting just for the parking lot. Pretty rediculous!!
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
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  15. #15
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Well, your post lists the usual kiss of death for controversial projects: the lengthy presentation by the developer. The public is just squirming in their seats listening to this, getting madder and madder. So are the staff planners. I was once the staff planner in a public hearing where the dumb-ass attorney showed 2 promotional movies about lime-rock mining, and even his hired court reporter was ready to kill him.

    The approach should be to bond with the neighbors before the public hearing. Community meeting, staff meeting with community, whatever. By the time you get to public hearing, if you have had no contact with the neighbors, they're ready to rip your heart out.

    Do not meet with staff with the public. You do it or they do it. If you do the presentation with public staff present, staff with be suspect. Do not lie. Don't even think about it. Don't say you've met with county commissioners and your plan is OK with them; chances are, the neighbors have already been there and know the answer. Know all the answers, even if they're not good: I am hearing today that our city approved a 2200-unit development and "forgot" about state Development of Regional Impact rules pertaining to 1000 units in this county. Like the developer "forgot", too? Bad press.

  16. #16
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    Re-Think the Purpose of Meetings

    Wayne

    I think I would first take a step back and re-think the key issues at hand. first - what are the factors that contribute to an overheated situation? From limited times with such a situation it seems that often the reason is that the audience is not aware of the tasks that the project developer has to complete (e.g. environmental review, NEPA process, etc.) prior to project approval. Developers have a code of ordinances, guidelines for impacts, and local/state/national standards of what those impacts can entail while still being 'acceptable'.

    The issues, as someone else noted, largely focus on situations where the developer needs to maximize their land and the neighbors or project opponents often want no change or minimal change to the status quo. Inherently there is a conflict.

    When a developer meets with the general public, be it a pre-hearing, or during the public review process, a developer speaks in terms of impacts and how particular elements look, feel, and relate to guidelines governed by ordinances and rules setup well before the project came to light. The neighbors or project opponents, if they are even aware of these ordinances, often do not have the technical background to understand how the nuances of these details and how they relate to everyday life. For example, it is very difficult to discuss traffic with a crew that say - "adding 1 vehicle per minute is a bad thing", however, given all local, state, and national guidelines, often 1 vehicle per minute is well within acceptable ranges of impact. This is a very concrete example on how Staff need to be willing to stand up to a community and say - this project follows all typically used guidelines for project and land use development. Perhaps it is then better to be proactive and come up with a permitting process that accounts for areas that may say - 1 vheicle per minute is not acceptable...

    I suggest a very important meeting would occur between Staff and any project neighbors or opponents (without the Project team). Therefore Staff can educate and discuss the project parameters that are used in project review. This way the public is understanding of their role and where they can influence project changes prior to any public hearing with the DRB or Planning boards.

    This thought suggests that although DRB's or other planning meetings are 'public', much of the subject matter is very technical, bureaucratic, and worthless to the general public. When the Project team presents, they speak in a language necessary for the reviewing agency and not for the general public. It is no wonder that sometimes people stand up and provide comments like they didn't hear a word that the Project Developer said. The bottom line is that the meeting is explicitly held for the benefit of the Reviewing Agency - NOT the general Public. The degree of analysis and understanding of a project's impacts has become sufficiently technical that it seems unreasonable to think that the Public can meaningfully interact.

    Due to legal intervention brought by concerned citizens in the past, and the continued significant treat of legal action, projects are further confined to talk in only language that can be defended in court or exactly backed up by a particular sentence in assessments done by Project's professional analysts. This fear of legal action handcuffs meaningful informal discussion, debate, and interaction with the general public.

    A strong Planner or DRB can influence development in amazing ways. Given that more and more projects are not meeting acceptable guidelines (especially given traffic) due to the fact that our land use regulations were written for a vehicle dominated society, good projects are coming up more and more in court and being challenged. The correct place for these projects to be challenged or amended is during the zoning process or during formation of the base ordinances that developers must follow when coming up with their development. A strong Staff can provide education to the public, while gaining buy-in and support for particular planning elements.

    All in all - I think we need to re-think the purpose of these meetings. Who are we trying to serve - and How are we serving them. I think there is a better way - but I see it part of a larger change in Planning Approaches.

  17. #17
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    Making for friendlier and more productive PZC meetings

    Hi,
    There isn't anything new I can add about how people complain and try to derail the process - coming to the meeting inflamed with mis-information, articles in the newspaper and contacting PZC members outside of hearings... you've all seen it, been there and done that.

    Some things that we have started doing that help although don't stop the inflamatory behavior is:

    The applicants used to bring their plans in and put them on an easel for the Commission to see. The audiuence could hear it but couldn't see it. That is part of the problem - not being able to see what people are taking about only adds to the problems of the average person not being able to read a site plan or having a hard time understanding the scale of the project in terms of the surroundings. Now, we have joined the modern age and require the applicant to bring digital images so we can project them on the screen with the laptop and computer projector. Even for a small town like this one, it is not that expensive to do. And sometimes the applicants bring their own laptops and projectors because mine goes into a coma - you could require that and not have to pay for the equipment. That way everyone, including the audience is looking at the same plans.

    What might help people to understand the scale issue is to compare distances or sizes of something else people are familiar with. Also, showing aerial photographs with measurements and site plan images superimposed onto them help.

    We have "preliminary" discussions where the applicant can come to a PZC meeting but that process is not that helpful from what I have seen, since there is no standards on what to present - it could be the equivalent of a sketch on the back of a paperbag or some professionally prepared plans and the PZC is worried (correctly) about predetermining the vote they unfortunately may not give very clear advice on where the applicant should go with their idea. The applicant sometimes leaves seeming to be more confused then when they came in. Part of this problem is related to conflicting regulations.

    I used to work in a bigger town with far more employees and we would have preliminary meetings with the applicant and the various staff including the Enrivonmental Planner, Director of Planning, the Zoning Officer, the Engineer, Fire Marshal and sometimes the Building Official, etc. and we would review the proposal long before it would be submitted to any department. Sometimes we met more than once. That way we could see what was lacking in the plans or what needed more work as well as what we thought would present neighborhood issues and how they might be addressed. I thought that worked out rather well for most applications. Of course you would have some applicants that appeared to like to waste staff's time by bringing us something that did not meet basic regulations for zoning or wetlands and we met several times to explain how it would not meet the requirements and they kept coming back only making small changes.

    I think in general a good idea would be for the PZC members to have a relationship with the other boards and commissions including Economic Development. That way instead of relating to each other negatively we could try and understand where the other group was coming from. Right now, in both communities I have worked in, the Commission has to have the input of the other board(s) & commission(s) but they don't speak to each other, often don't seem to understand each other and therefore they don't often have the opportunity to work together. When a proposal comes to town, there is usually at least one party in town that wants it, even if the most active proponent is the applicant. If we can take a step back and try to understand where they are coming from to understand what and why they are proposing it from their point of view (the creation of jobs, tax revenues, housing, services, and yes people may want to realize the financial aspect of their investment in land, etc.) we can try to understand each other better. In the rural communities where I have worked, it seems that very often the land owner is somehow made out to be the bad guy who is ruining the town. All communities are evolving and if they are not they are dying.

    Also, I think there needs to be more planning for the future and an understanding that when you write the regs it will shape the future development and therefore they should not be done as quickly as possibly or as briefly as possibly- when that happens the final amendment or regulation often has some errors in it that people did not realize were there but the application that is submitted under it must follow it.

    Why are people in both a hurry and in stubborn stall mode at the same time? It's a wonder we ever got anywhere at all.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    wayne

    Although I think the premise is a tad off the mark. By definition every public hearing is productive...as it is likely a requirement of the process. But I get your point.

    My experiences suggests the following as ways to better run a public hearing as well as pull higher quality comments from the public.

    To the first re: pre meetings--In a previous life in Northern VA, Fairfax County I recall had specific neighborhood level review steps before getting to the Planning Commission. I would defer to others as to how binding those neighood review sessions were to the process. I suspect quite.

    Likewise, Loudoun County VA has had a policy of "strongly recommending" developer-neighborhhood meetings before getting to the PC public hearing. They may in fact be required by ordinance now. I have been on the developer side and in any even remotely controversial project, the first question from the dias to me was "have you met with the neighborhood?" If I had not then I risked a denial right there at the public hearing.

    Now that may not satisfy those outright opposed, but the meetings can wean out the reasonable from unreasonable (I had my developer hat on there for a sec!).

    To the second here are a couple of ideas that can work:

    1. Pre briefing for the PC in advance of the hearing is good as it allows the PC to ask questions that can be reported back/answered as the hearing. This meeting is of course open to the public but without input.
    2. Hard to change format really, but keep to a set time limit 5 minutes for staff, 5 minutes for applicant, 2 minutes per person, and 5 minute rebuttal for applicant. The level of detail provided by the developer should be dictated by the application process. Again developer is at own risk without pictures and details.
    3. Limit questions from the Planning Commission--meaning take the public input and move the item to a future work session or committee of the whole. So, the pressure is off on making a decision that evening! A good chairman can help move the debate in this manner.

  19. #19
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    Our town's PC meeting procedures are dictated by the town's ordinances. Basically, 10 minutes are allowed for the applicant to present it's case, then those in favor of the application get A TOTAL of ten minutes to speak, followed by those in opposition who also get a total of ten minutes. The applicant then gets an additional three minutes (plus any unused time from the original ten minutes) for rebuttal. That's it! The PC does have the prerogative to add time but we rarely need to do so. After the speakers have been heard, the Planning Director makes his recommendations and then the public hearing is closed. All discussion is then among the commissioners only unless they have questions for applicants or anyone else.

    First on the agenda, the chairman goes over the rules in detail. He also stresses that speakers be concise so that others have a chance to speak. Since people in opposition usually know the rules beforehand, they usually appoint a spokesperson. In my six years on the PC we never had to worry about those in favor of the application speaking too long.

    Yes, there are one or two verbose folks (self described 'experts') who do us a favor by continually re-appearing as speakers but the chairman does remind them, sometimes by interrupting them, that courtesy requires them to be brief so others can speak.

    When it is obvious that the applicant and citizens in opposition do not understand each other's concerns, the PC will table the application in order for them to get together to talk things out. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't but at least all parties are better informed.

    In reading over comments by others, I agree that the Planning Director (staff) should encourage applicants to meet with effected townspeople prior to the formal public hearing. Another good idea is for the PD, when making his recommendation, provide any history, legal background, precedents, etc. so that the PC and audience have a better understanding of the constraints put on the PC.

  20. #20
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    Wayne, I am going on my 10th year on the planning commission here and am currently the Chair for the 2nd time. I think our staff and commission know from the past which applications and items will raise the blood pressure of the community.

    Certain neighborhoods have hot button issues, and the community in general have issues that tend to bring them out to our meetings. When we know that we could be having a controversial item coming up we do several things.

    If the matter is more general and community wide, for example a Specific Plan,General Plan amendment we might have a 'visioning' workshop with the City Council. Then we might have workshops for the public to attend.

    Now, if the matter is a development application, staff 'encourages' the developer to meet with the surrounding neighborhood in advance of the meeting. If the developer skips this step, our Commission is probably going to continue the item until that is done. We feel it is very important in helping minimize the contentiousness of a hearing.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Wildono's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Running with the Proverbial Dark Lord
    Posts
    92

    The Truth May Not Set Us Free

    Quote Originally posted by CCT View post
    So why do we planners keep bloodying our poor heads in this futile exercise? Perhaps because we're forever optimistic that some good will come out of all this muck.
    CCT - you've hit these right on their heads. All of the procedural measures short of having a citizen design charette where citizens actually arrange design elements by their own hands are doomed in a very general way when it comes to any proposal
    with the possibility of controversy. Once, as a staff planner I was the sole recipient of an hour long screamfest pepppered with threats of personal liability lawsuits following a study session in which I presented information about a large property the city needed to designate for urban use as it would not be used as a water impoundment facility. Our planning commission is only advisory. The screamers started during the study session, shouting profanities which neither the planning commission chair nor my bosses attempted to curtail.
    "That guy handles the puck like a cow handles a gun!" - Mike Lange

  22. #22
    Member
    Registered
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Lee's Summit, Missouri
    Posts
    13

    Pre-Meeting Ordinances

    Glendale, AZ and San Antonio, TX have code provisions that require or create incentives for applicants to meet with neighbors and to resolve issues before filing an application.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian CDT's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Midwest
    Posts
    183
    I have not read all of the replies.

    We do strongly encourage applicants to work with neighborhoods in advance of application or the hearing. I have a group home permit that will be considered in the next month or two. I spent a lot of time with the applicants at the pre-application meeting helping them to help themselves.

    A lot of what I do is strategy before the meeting and nothing that is written in the code. I will contact various stakeholders to try to ascertain their interests/concerns and address them in advance of the hearing. It is in my personal and professional interest to have as smooth of a public hearing as possible.

    I also encourace applicants to provide as many visuals as possible.

    We will occassionally table items that have unresolved issues when the parties are amenable to meeting to discuss.

  24. #24
    Member
    Registered
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Highland Park, IL
    Posts
    1

    Non-Productive Meetings

    We use a review meeting with the developer and the city staff, Including engineering and building depts, to catch potential problems early. Also, we have Pre-Application meeting with the Plan Commission. This is not a public hearing, it's just an opportunity for the commission members to give their concerns or feedback prior to the hearing. The applicant would address the commission's concerns prior to the public hearing, and it gives time for staff to respond as well.

    I agree with fellow posts, a strong chair is important. The best I've worked with keeps residents on point - the only concerns that should be addressed at the meeting must be related to the development (it's not an open forum for all the problems with the city). Also, repeating the same opinion over and over by each resident testifying is limited with an annoucement at the beginning ("don't be repetitive"), and then limiting the testimony to five minutes if necessary. It's the chair's responsibility to remind residents of these rules, and they are usually followed, and everyone feels that they've been heard.
    Good luck!

  25. #25
    BWharrie's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2002
    Location
    Cross Country Skiing, Australia
    Posts
    74

    Public Participation - the true meaning

    The role of Public Participation in the assessment of a proposal including forums and public hearings, notificatiuons and objections should be clearly defined. The role of public participation is meant to be no more than:
    a) identify the range of direct and indirect impacts that may have been missed by the assessing planner
    b) educates municipal and consultant planners as to the current issues and concerns of the local populace
    c) helps identify key noise makers so that a future process of enlighted education can be attempted with those persons
    d) more definitively measures the significance of each impact as perceived and sometimes in objective reality
    e) indicates the level of public interest for our political masters

    But Public Particpation does not prevail in itself the right of the objectors to feel they have the right to stop a project. This should be made absolutely clear at every public meeting forum and meeting with objectors.

    At every public meeting , forum and private meetings as well as thousands of written objection I have handled, the predominant perception of objectors is that they believe their objection must stop the development. This is accentuated when they are surrounded by like thinking objectors. To invent a collective noun of a "rage of objectos" refelcts what happens in some of these situations. The education of objectors has swayed beyond the true and real parameters of best practice assessment of proposed developments.

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