Here’s a Council Referral that I’m actually glad to see, although the increasing number of Council Referrals is a bit problematic considering that the City Council is often unable to get through the entire normal agenda without all the extras.
Recently there have been a lot of Calls for Review of Planning Board decisions, probably because even though Mayor Trish Spencer has been able to populate two of the seats with *her* people she is still not in control of the majority of the Planning Board, which given some of the comments from at least one of her appointees, is a good thing.
Anyway, Councilmember Jim Oddie who is competing for the title of most Council Referrals ever has suggested reforming the way that Calls for Review of Planning Board decisions are handled. From the Council Referral:
In approving this referral, staff is directed to identify a process to report on the actions of the Planning Board at the first City Council meeting after each Planning Board. At that meeting, without discussing the project, a member of the Council could make a motion to call a specific item from the list of Planning Board actions for a full, de novo hearing at a future Council meeting, the motion could include a statement of concern for why the Council should call this for review and once seconded, Councilmembers would be allowed to ask questions of staff before voting. This motion would need both a second and a vote of the majority of the Council to be called for review.
1) Notwithstanding any appeal procedures or any other call-up procedures provided by law, the City Council may call for the review of the following decisions of the Planning Board at the meeting at which the Planning Board’s decision is reported to the City Council:
a) Any conditional use permit, or
b) Any design review final action.
2) If called-up for review by a majority vote of the City Council, the item will be heard de novo at a future City Council meeting following notice pursuant to subsection 3. If the City Council does not so vote, the decision of the Planning Board shall be final for City Council call-up.
3) All provisions for notice and hearing applicable to the Planning Board for that type of decision, shall apply to the City Council in conducting its review; provided, however, that if an appeal from a decision has been properly filed, the matter shall be conducted as an appeal subject to all applicable requirements for such appeals, rather than a review subject to this section.
4) The process costs for items called for review would be identified in the City Council budget and would not be borne by the applicant. Once this budget line item is exhausted, Council would need to seek additional funding and identify a source of revenue or offsetting budget cut before authorizing additional funding.
Personally I think this is a great plan. It allows the City Council to still have control of appealing a decision made by the Planning Board but it’s not just in the hands of one person to simply call everything up for review because that person fundamentally disagrees with either (1) any development in general or (2) anything approved by the majority of Planning Board members.
Also under the proposed changes, there the cost of the appeal would not be borne by the applicants but rather to the City itself if the City Council decides to call something for review. This is particularly important for small residential projects (call them mom n’ pop projects if you will) where the applicant, a homeowner, is forced to appear time and time again with professionals that they are on the hook for paying simply because someone has convinced one City Council member to take up their cause against the project.
Naturally some City Council members are going to take great offense at this and speculate as to why this was not done under previous mayoral administrations. Arguably it should have been done, but hey, no time like the present. I imagine that the point of the Call for Review process was to be used in extreme circumstances when there is something deficient in the way that the Planning Board handled the decision making process as opposed to simply providing opponents a second bite at the apple to defeat a project or to increase the costs to the applicant to make it financially unappealing. This way, this proposed procedure manages the expectations of the applicant so that they understand what happens after they make it through the Planning Board process as opposed to being left in limbo as to the whims of the City Council.