By Mallory Herrmann

The city council and planning commission held a joint meeting this week to discuss how they can better work together and reestablish trust: trust in each other and in the process for approving development in the city.

Mayor Bill Baird opened the meeting asking both bodies to think about how they can work better together to promote development, ensure public engagement in the process, and support each other. Both groups agreed that one place to start is with curtailing the number of modifications to the unified development ordinance (UDO) that are added to development plans. City Manager Steve Arbo summarized it as seeing the same types of modifications that are often requested and often approved, such as setback or landscape barrier requirements. He suggested that the city should consider whether the UDO should just be updated, rather than continually modifying certain requirements.

The group also considered the typical timeline of projects. Chairperson Jason Norbury noted that the commission often feels pressured to conclude their process quickly in order to meet deadlines for the city council’s own public hearing and consideration. That doesn’t always leave time for them to get their questions answered thoroughly or to request and approve changes before it goes to council. In some cases, developers have not fully incorporated the commission’s recommendations or requests. When the development plan reaches the city council, similar discussions are rehashed.

Baird called for the council’s support in allowing the commission to take greater liberty in continuing discussions of applications to future meetings of their own in order to come to a conclusion, rather than pushing it forward to council – sometimes without any conclusive recommendation.

The council also agreed to enhance the planning commission’s role when it comes to public hearings. According to statute, the city is only required to provide one public hearing for an application. That requirement is fulfilled with the planning commission’s hearing, but city council also holds a public hearing. In some cases, very similar or even identical testimony is given at both sessions. Both bodies were careful to emphasize that all public comments are valued. They agreed that promoting earlier engagement from the public, with help from staff, and getting concerns on the record during the planning commission’s consideration will help streamline the process and ensure that issues get addressed before a council vote.

“Lee’s Summit strikes an excellent balance, given the system that you have set up,” David Bushek, chief counsel of economic development and planning, said of the city’s thorough review of applications in a reasonable amount of time.

Both council and planning also asked that developers be required to hold neighborhood meetings to let nearby property owners know what is being planned, even before any public hearings are scheduled. Staff also discussed the possibility of expanding the current radius required for notifying neighbors of public hearings: currently 185 feet, city council could vote whether to extend that requirement to include a wider area.

Mayor Pro Tem Beto Lopez and Commissioners Don Gustafson, John Lovell, Herman Watson, Jake Loveless and Jeff Sims were absent from the Nov. 20 meeting.