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Public Hearing Notifications Too Confusing????

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Joe Iliff

Reformed City Planner
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1,441
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In most places I've worked, the planning department included in the notice of a public hearing (on a rezoning or site plan or something) a map showing the property involved AND the 200 foot notification buffer around the property. (The buffer defines who is required to be mailed a notice.)

I've had several customers who didn't understand the map, thinking that the buffer defined the property involved, or that properties inside the buffer would be bought by the city or the applicant. I had a customer who thought that because the applicant was a public school district, and their property was within the buffer, their property would be tax-exempt, like the school district's.

I don't know why these planning agencies decided to include the buffer in the notice. It doesn't mean anything to the applicant, even if they understood it. In my opinion, it just adds confusion rather than assisting understanding.

Does your city include the buffer on mailed public hearing notifications?
 

Richmond Jake

You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!
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18,313
Points
44
No place that I've worked has shown the notification buffer.
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
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25,789
Points
61
Nope, No buffer here.
We use the adjoining property owners list just within the office to check that the applicant's mailing list is complete.

Names and addresses of abutting property owners must be obtained by looking up the tax codes and official owner of record at the Assessor's office, and then taking tax codes to the Treasurer's Office for the mailing address.
For clarification, abutting property is defined as any property which would touch at any point the owner’s property included in whole or in part in the ordinance for rezoning, including across streets, alleys, and easements, etc.
Therefore, owners across streets, alleys, easements, must also be notified.

AFTER FILING, but at least 12 days before the APC meeting,
a notice must be mailed by the petitioner by CERTIFIED MAIL, RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED
(see attached sample letter/instruction) to each of the owners whose property is abutting the owner's property included in whole or in part in the petition for rezoning.
(Refer to Step 4 above for information regarding abutting property owners.) By ordinance, these notices MUST be postmarked no less than 12 days before the Area Plan Commission meeting at which the petition will be heard.
 
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Gedunker

Moderating
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41
Not here either. In fact, there is no buffer, per se. We require notice to adjoining property owners (those literally sharing a property line).

I can imagine the confusion such a map might generate -- most people can't read a map to save their lives. B-) Is this a local requirement or state statute?
 

NHPlanner

A shadow of my former self
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9,945
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Gedunker said:
We require notice to adjoining property owners (those literally sharing a property line).
Same thing here.
 

Joe Iliff

Reformed City Planner
Messages
1,441
Points
29
Gedunker said:
B-) Is this a local requirement or state statute?
The buffer isn't required at all per se. It's just a procedure to determine who gets a notice via mail. The city is required by state law to mail a notice of the public hearing to owners of property within 200 feet of the area to be rezoned. The buffer is just the way you determine who gets a notice. It's just a tool to create a list of addresses for the mailing. But, I've seen both planners and the public misunderstand this.

The land within the buffer isn't important, just who owns it. And, since it's a hearing open to the public, it's not like just they are invited;anyone can attend.

Although, there is a procedure under state law in Texas that the owners of 75% (I think) of the land within the buffer can create a petition that requires City Council to pass the rezoning by a supermajority (5 votes out of 7, I think). But, in my experience, this is pretty rare.
 

SGB

Cyburbian
Messages
3,388
Points
26
Most places that I've worked at didn't mail out the buffer map. Instead, the map was produced by the office for the applicant file to show the basis for the fee required to be paid by the applicant to cover public hearing notice costs.
 

Habanero

Cyburbian
Messages
3,241
Points
27
The City of Plano included the map with the notices and we always got the outlandish questions as well. I know they were trying to change the map up so people didn't get freaked out.

When we send out notices in my currect city we do not include the map, but every property owner within 300 feet of a zoning change or use permit is notified.
 
Messages
148
Points
6
Joe Iliff said:
I've had several customers who didn't understand the map, thinking that the buffer defined the property involved, or that properties inside the buffer would be bought by the city or the applicant. I had a customer who thought that because the applicant was a public school district, and their property was within the buffer, their property would be tax-exempt, like the school district's.FONT]


Youy know, up here In Canada, when playing games of chance you must correctly answer a skill-testing question in order to receive a prize. This skill testing question is developed by a special branch of Industry Canada, whom are funded to the tune of over $10 Million per year. This branch does nothing but pump out skill testing questions to put on scratch and win cards, 50/50 draws, and the like.

My point is, we do this becuase the government beleives that you should only be allowed to win money if you can provide that you deserve it - by answering a question that checks your basic level of intelligence. Perhaps we need to think about putting skill testing questions on maps, or on entry forms to come into public hearings. Perhaps this will help.

I'm just joking, of course. Still, it is frightening how many people seem to have no clue how to operate a simple map and jump to bizarre conclusions such as the one posted above. We don't put in buffers on our maps up here, but even a (to my eyes) comletely clear map still seems to bring out the weirdos. Ahh, democracy.
 

The One

Cyburbian
Messages
8,289
Points
30
No Buffer

No, the buffer shouldn't be included. I'll bet some politician decided to include the buffer as an overreaction to some irate citizen that thought they should have gotten notice (you know the type, the guy who show's up to the hearing to complain that he wasn't notified :-# ) I could go on and on and on with a rant about this and other similar overreactions....

JNA said:
Nope, No buffer here.
We use the adjoining property owners list just within the office to check that the applicant's mailing list is complete.

Names and addresses of abutting property owners must be obtained by looking up the tax codes and official owner of record at the Assessor's office, and then taking tax codes to the Treasurer's Office for the mailing address.
For clarification, abutting property is defined as any property which would touch at any point the owner’s property included in whole or in part in the ordinance for rezoning, including across streets, alleys, and easements, etc.
Therefore, owners across streets, alleys, easements, must also be notified.

AFTER FILING, but at least 12 days before the APC meeting,
a notice must be mailed by the petitioner by CERTIFIED MAIL, RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED
(see attached sample letter/instruction) to each of the owners whose property is abutting the owner's property included in whole or in part in the petition for rezoning.
(Refer to Step 4 above for information regarding abutting property owners.) By ordinance, these notices MUST be postmarked no less than 12 days before the Area Plan Commission meeting at which the petition will be heard.
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO SEND A BULK MAILING BY CERTIFIED MAIL??????????? IF NOT, YOU AND YOUR JURISDICTION HAVE NO RIGHT TO REQUIRE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!
 
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NHPlanner

A shadow of my former self
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9,945
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The One said:
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO SEND A BULK MAILING BY CERTIFIED MAIL??????????? IF NOT, YOU AND YOUR JURISDICTION HAVE NO RIGHT TO REQUIRE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!
First of all....no need to shout.

Secondly, what's so unusual about sending hearing notices by certified-return receipt? It ensures that the town/city/county has notified all the abutters, and in fact it's state law in NH to use certified mail for abutters mailings.

Why on earth would any public hearing notice need bulk mail?
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
25,789
Points
61
The burden is on the Petitioner not the PC so no need for bulk mailing.

"a notice must be mailed by the petitioner"
"to each of the owners whose property is abutting the owner's property included in whole or in part in the petition..."
 

IPlan

Cyburbian
Messages
60
Points
4
We have to do a buffer, but we do not show the buffer on the map. The buffer is used to find all of the neighbours and used to generate a mailing list (we keep a copy in the file), but the maps sent to the public just show the application and not the buffer.

I would agree, a buffer is just to confusing on the map for the public.
 

Joe Iliff

Reformed City Planner
Messages
1,441
Points
29
Follow-Up

Thanks for the great responses.

Follow-up question for discussion: Should the responsibility for mailing notices fall to the applicant or to the planning department? Give me the pros and cons you see.

I'll start by offering a con I see to having the applicant do it: The planners have no record of what was sent. Requiring certified mail receipts just indicates that something was sent, but does not document the contents of the mailing.
 

NHPlanner

A shadow of my former self
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The town staff here does the mailings, and charges $5 per abutter to cover the postage and administrative costs.
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
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5,443
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34
I would rather do it, so I knew it was done properly. We charge the actual cost for the mailing.
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
First, dump the map of the buffer.

As for who mails, remember that improper notice means the case must be tabled if found out in time; or heard again. I would rather mail the notices than trusting the applicant to know all due process issues. I do not want to re-hear cases.
 

Seabishop

Cyburbian
Messages
3,838
Points
25
We just do it for them. Especially with GIS its simpler and you know that certain objecting neighbors aren't "mistakenly" being left out.
 

SGB

Cyburbian
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3,388
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26
Joe Iliff said:
Follow-up question for discussion: Should the responsibility for mailing notices fall to the applicant or to the planning department? Give me the pros and cons you see.
Have the department do it. Keep the buffer map used to create the mailing list in the applicant file. Charge the applicant for all mailing plus administrative costs.

And if you can get away with it - like NHP's employer - charge 'em an arm and a leg per mailing. Remember: fee revenues, good. Property tax revenues, bad. ;)

Pros:
  • Revenue stream to offset department budget
  • Certainty as to who was sent the hearing notice.
  • Strong department paper trail to defend against any claims of lack of procedural due process on how the application was handled.
 

SW MI Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
3,194
Points
26
Habanero said:
When we send out notices in my currect city we do not include the map, but every property owner within 300 feet of a zoning change or use permit is notified.
Same here. And, no matter how simple you make it, a lot of people just don't get it. I always have people call up saying they got someone elses mail.

We charge a flat rate for applications (which currently is too low), and we do the mailings. I'm not sure that I trust the applicant to do it. It would honk me off if we had to send someone through more than once because they didn't do the mailing properly.
 

NHPlanner

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SGB said:
And if you can get away with it - like NHP's employer - charge 'em an arm and a leg per mailing. Remember: fee revenues, good. Property tax revenues, bad. ;)
If you really think about it, $4.42 of the $5 we charge is spent on the certified mail and return receipt. So our Admin cost is 58 cents per abutter.
 

SGB

Cyburbian
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3,388
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NHPlanner said:
If you really think about it, $4.42 of the $5 we charge is spent on the certified mail and return receipt. So our Admin cost is 58 cents per abutter.
Ok - so obviously it's been a while since I've had to do an abutter notice. :-$
Damn those postal rate increases!
 

NHPlanner

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SGB said:
Ok - so obviously it's been a while since I've had to do an abutter notice. :-$
Damn those postal rate increases!
lol....long time since Littleton, isn't it? ;-)
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
notice letters

we prepare 250 ft radial notices for all public hearings...and in the case of historic preservation all public reviews, and public hearings. Our assessor data is updated infrequently at best. I'm still listed as the owner of a house I havn't owned for almost 2 years.

We do not send the buffer map.. that is kept in file and available upon request.

I think that staff performing the mailing is better. you have a paper trail as others have said.
 

The One

Cyburbian
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8,289
Points
30
Please..............

NHPlanner said:
First of all....no need to shout.

Secondly, what's so unusual about sending hearing notices by certified-return receipt? It ensures that the town/city/county has notified all the abutters, and in fact it's state law in NH to use certified mail for abutters mailings.

Why on earth would any public hearing notice need bulk mail?

#1. If the US Government considers 1st class mail as acceptable for "secret" level of documents, then why can't our cities and counties accept this method of delivery? The only other requirement would be to have staff or the applicant fill out an affidavit saying that they mailed the notices (just like when posting a sign). Again, I ask if anyone (other than me) has prepared over 100 certified letters to owners before?? I would suggest that if you have admin. staff do the work, add up all the time they spend preparing the paperwork and then figure out how much money your loosing. Again, a law requiring this type of notice probably originated from some irate citizen(s) trying to stop some project somewhere by saying they didn't get notice....(overreaction)

#2. Bulk Mail - Any mailing to more than 100 neighbors

#3. I agree that if your code only requires notice to "adjacent" owners then sure no problem sending a few (up to 10) certified letters, but I think most codes require a notice to owners within a certain distance (200'-1000' seem to be the most common) and as such tend to capture up to several hundred neighbors (certainly would if those neighbors happen to live in....say....condo's.....)

Didn't mean to yell, but this issue irks me............... :-}
 

NHPlanner

A shadow of my former self
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The One said:
Again, I ask if anyone (other than me) has prepared over 100 certified letters to owners before??
Yep. State law requires additional notification to every community within a 20 mile radius of any proposed wireless communication facility. I've (well, my staff) has sent out certified/return receipt mailings to over 100 "abutters" (43 actual abutters, 60 some odd communities within 20 miles).

It's been the law here for decades, and I've never once heard any other planners/towns complain about it. It's the process, we do it.

A typical "deadline week" for us is several projects, about a hundred or so mailings to abutters. The staff time used is not as much as you'd think. We have the applicants submit 3 sets of labels with mailing addresses on them, and we just attach them to the envelope, the cert. slip, and the return receipt card, and run them through our postage meter.
 

SW MI Planner

Cyburbian
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3,194
Points
26
NHPlanner said:
We have the applicants submit 3 sets of labels with mailing addresses on them, and we just attach them to the envelope, the cert. slip, and the return receipt card, and run them through our postage meter.
So the applicant has to provide the mailing list? Do you guys check to make sure it's accurate? Just curious.
 

NHPlanner

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SW MI Planner said:
So the applicant has to provide the mailing list? Do you guys check to make sure it's accurate? Just curious.
The applicant has to get the list from one of our Assessing Terminals, which has up to the minute (well, actually, accurate within 3 days) property owner information.

We then double check it when the list is submitted.
 

The One

Cyburbian
Messages
8,289
Points
30
Sounds Good

I'm glad to hear you've got things under control up north.... :-D You might consider asking the developer complete the envelopes also.....(now that I don't work with the developer, you should make them do as much as possible :-D ) Have a GREAT HOLIDAY!
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
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The One said:
Again, a law requiring this type of notice probably originated from some irate citizen(s) trying to stop some project somewhere by saying they didn't get notice....(overreaction)
Not an over reaction if someone got sued over it.
 

The One

Cyburbian
Messages
8,289
Points
30
Good Point

Yeah, lawsuits tend to throw twists into everything we do.... :-D
Unless the code requires certified notice, and it was not sent that way, notice sent by regular mail has been upheld in many courts. Then again, who's to say that judges don't overreact as well...... ;-)
 

ludes98

Cyburbian
Messages
1,264
Points
22
giff57 said:
Not an over reaction if someone got sued over it.
This was an issue in jurisdiction here recently. The city did the notice based on assessor maps, but in some counties here, they don't update quickly. You might see where this going. So Joe Blow buys his home, never gets notice and the project is approved before he hears about it. Now he sues the city and applicant over notification. Courts finds that just using assessor information doesn't satisfy reasonable effort to notify. Case is on appeal.
 

The One

Cyburbian
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8,289
Points
30
Thank God for Appeals Court

ludes98 said:
This was an issue in jurisdiction here recently. The city did the notice based on assessor maps, but in some counties here, they don't update quickly. You might see where this going. So Joe Blow buys his home, never gets notice and the project is approved before he hears about it. Now he sues the city and applicant over notification. Courts finds that just using assessor information doesn't satisfy reasonable effort to notify. Case is on appeal.
Yeah, well maybe adding a (Joe Blow or Current Owner) to the Address line would help?
 

ludes98

Cyburbian
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22
The One said:
Yeah, well maybe adding a (Joe Blow or Current Owner) to the Address line would help?
In specific instance the owner had different mailing address than the pysical address. They should also mail to physical address IMHO.
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
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I have thought about getting some of those portable signs with the flashing lights. Set the suckers up on the lot in question for a few days. See what a judge does with that.
 

The One

Cyburbian
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8,289
Points
30
Discriminatory Notice

I love the idea of a flashing sign 100' x 100' in size in front of each home, with continuous computer generated phone calls to each owner/occupant with a recorded message about the meeting and UPS/FedEx/Airborne Express overnight delivery to every owner, current and previous for the history of the property and hand delivery by the planning director, and publication in each of the 50 largest newspapers in the country (by circulation) but you know the judge would declare it discriminatory to the blind and the illiterate, not to mention the deaf......ha ha ha ... (Just having a little fun :) .....)

Enough Said.........
 
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