On October 6, 2008, Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert, asked City Council to initiate a study of the development review process.  If adopted, the changes would provide incentives to developers who submit plans with affordable living choices. The Planning Commission will now review the suggested changes and a public hearing will be held, after which the Commission will make its recommendations.


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In their recent retreat

, City Council expressed an interest in streamlining the site plan approval process. The goals of this amendment are: to allow Planning Commission to focus their time on strategic issues while maintaining oversight of key decisions; to streamline the site plan review process; and to provide incentives for new affordable housing.

If this amendment were adopted, Tolbert said the Planning Commission could spend more time making certain City code is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan rather than spending time on site plan approval for by right developments.  This amendment would require only site plans to go before the Planning Commission if they are connected to special use permits and Planned Unit Development rezoning.






Jim Tolbert addresses City Council


Currently, every site plan goes to the Commission once it has received staff approval, including those which conform to the property’s existing zoning.  According to Tolbert, the Commission rarely makes major changes to these by right plans once staff has recommended approval. The proposed changes would also alter the process so site plans brought before the Commission would be what Tolbert called “true preliminary plans” with limited detail so that developers can make changes suggested by the Commission.

Tolbert suggested that citizens be encouraged to attend site plan conferences, which are meetings between planning staff and developers. Tolbert said many people attend Planning Commission meetings to protest by right plans when the Commission lacks power to make changes.  He said the result would be better projects. It was recommended that the area of citizens invited to the site plan review should be also be enlarged.

Through the proposed Zoning Text Amendment planning staff would have more responsibility in ensuring site plans meet the criteria of the City Code. Tolbert feels it would be a better use of staff time to meet with developers rather than composing exhaustive staff reports for the Commission. Additionally, Tolbert suggested that responsibility for Entrance Corridor review be assigned to staff rather than the Planning Commission. Tolbert proposes a guarantee of three week turn-around time on site plans that contain affordable units. Currently, staff has 45 days to submit their review back to developers. This would also mean developers would not have to hold onto undeveloped land as long while awaiting approval. While the exact specifics of the changes will be determined by the Planning Commission during their review, Councilors spent a few minutes discussing the ramifications of streamlining the process.  Councilor

Satyendra Huja

endorsed the resolution but suggested that an appeal process should be included so that Planning Commission and citizens can bring an item up if they disagree with decisions made by planning staff.

Councilor

Brown

expressed concern that someone who does not live near the project but did not want to see new development could slow the approval process. Councilor Huja said he felt that if the applicant has a right to appeal staff decisions so should citizens.

Tolbert said he would prefer to have citizens bring a petition to the Commission, who would then review the conflict and see if it’s something that can be dealt with.  The Commission would then put forward an appeal or carry on with the approval process.

City Council agreed to initiate the review and the matter will now go to the Planning Commission for their detailed consideration. They have until the middle of January to come back with their recommendations.

Fania Gordon