Mallory Herrmann

The city council and planning commission held a joint meeting this week to follow-up on a conversation they started in November. The two bodies have been working to create a smoother process for development applications and to streamline communication between them.

The May 14 session included about an hour and a half of discussion regarding the public hearing process, the city’s zoning philosophy, and other recent hot topics like the perceived overuse of modifications allowed in development planning. All councilmembers were present for the meeting. Commissioner Carla Dial was absent.

Josh Johnson, assistant director of development services, explained that the zoning process used by the city creates very narrow boxes from which to consider applications. The process relies on variances when considering each individual project.

“Any multi-family project in this city is going to require a modification from density,” Johnson said, referencing conversations related to recent apartment developments that have been considered by the city.

Both groups seemed in agreement that their processes have improved greatly since the first discussion in November – and that there are still opportunities for improvement.

Each is accustomed to lengthy meetings resulting from long public hearings. While both councilmembers and commissioners seek to make sure residents have plenty of opportunity to weigh in on projects, they often see repetitious testimony and sometimes outright duplication of information.

Mayor Bill Baird has strived to open public hearings before the city council with a reminder not to repeat what has already been said and wondered if more should be done to ensure only new material is being shared, while assuring the public that their concerns are being heard even if they were only voiced once.

“I think sometimes that’s just part of the process of having these public discussions,” said Councilmember Rob Binney.

That was an echo of the sentiment for the balance they’re seeking for many of these issues: how to create zoning standards while allowing that every project is a little different, how to create space for every resident to have their voice heard while respecting limited time, and how to promote efficiencies in the development process while ensuring that all sides of a project are considered.