March 2, 2019

Mallory Herrmann

The planning commission is resuming a training schedule to keep commissioners better informed and on the same page regarding common issues. With a much lighter-than-usual agenda for their Feb. 28 meeting, the commission had an overview from city staff of some recent topics of interest – with plans to make such conversations a regular part of their process moving forward.

Hector Soto, current planning manager, said that city staff had recently noticed that the commission used to have regular training but that the process had fallen by the wayside.

Soto and David Bushek, chief counsel of economic development and planning, brought up recent pain points that the commission has been dealing with when considering new development projects, such as the perception that city is recommending projects for approval before the commission or city council has even considered them and concerns about allowing too many modifications to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) in preliminary development plans.

Bushek strived to clarify that the role of city staff in considering development applications is really to act as a filter. Staff work with the developer to ensure that all components of the application meet the city’s requirements and standards.

Bushek said the language often used in both planning commission and city council meetings – that “city staff recommends approval of the application” – is truly language of convenience and not intended to persuade. He said that “staff recommends approval” really only means that staff has reviewed the application in accordance with ordinance requirements and finds that it meets the standards of the city.

Continuing to clarify the process, Bushek said that staff work closely with developers to ensure that any potential issues are found and addressed in order to save time in the planning commission’s and city council’s review process. Without that step, those bodies would spend significantly more time requesting changes and revising the application to meet UDO and other requirements.

Jason Norbury, the commission’s chair, suggested that pursuing a change in that language throughout the city’s development review process would be worthwhile.

Commissioner Carla Dial agreed, noting that she hears from many residents that they feel like the city has already made up their mind to approve applications before it even gets to the planning commission for consideration. When they hear “city staff recommends approval,” it’s not clear that it’s simply that city staff has determined that the application meets the requirements for potential approval.

Soto and Bushek encouraged the commissioners to consider additional topics they’d like to discuss in future meetings.