CORRECTION APPENDED: This version corrects the original story published on Oct. 18. The Record incorrectly reported that the Planning Commission voted in favor of changing its membership from 12 to nine and reducing the amount of Wake County representation to one.
Raleigh’s Planning Commission agreed Tuesday to reduce its membership from 12 to 11, despite a 20-year-old state law requiring a reduction to nine.
The commission voted 6 to 3 in favor of the change. Effective immediately, 10 members of the commission will represent residents of the city, with two representing residents living in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) in Wake County. Currently, the 12-member board has three ETJ representatives.
To comply with state law, the commission must reduce its membership to nine, with only one member representing the ETJ. The city has not complied with the law for the past 20 years.
“It’s a step forward,” said Commissioner Waheed Haq. “I’m sure there are other statutes that we’re not in compliance with.”
Commission members against the idea decried the lack of representation for Wake County residents with no city voting power.
Some concerns were also raised about the availability of the lone Wake County member. If that member could not be present at a meeting, then ETJ residents would have no representation at all.
The change reflects the percentage of the population living within the city limits and the ETJ. City Planner Ken Bowers said according to the Census, in 1990 and 2000 about 10 and 12 percent of the population lived in the ETJ, respectively.
According to the 2010 Census, it had decreased to 5 percent.
At first, Commissioners voted to make the full reduction, adding a provision for an alternate ETJ member and requesting yearly reports from city staff on the population of the area.
But Haq brought up the issue again at the end of the meeting, asking to change his vote.
Earlier, Commissioner Isabel Mattox suggested cutting the membership more slowly. But Deputy City Attorney Ira Botvinick said even a slow reduction leaves the city in violation of state law.
Botvinick said that the city could be ordered by a court to comply with the law, but worse is the message ignoring the law sends.
Haq said he thought the commission should move forward with Maddox’s suggestion, which would reduce the membership down from 12 to 11 and reduce the ETJ representation down from three to two.
“In my view, that would be the simplest way to move forward,” he said.
Commissioner Erin Sterling Lewis reminded members that it wouldn’t bring them in compliance with the statute, just closer to it.
One problem with the reduction is that eight Planning Commission votes are required to approve a site plan. The absence of another member could delay future site approvals.
“We do agree that the eight-vote issue would cause significant problems under the current process,” Bowers said.
However, that process will change under the City’s new Unified Development Ordinance, which is expected to be approved early next year.
Sterling Lewis said the Commission is going to have to address the issue again to eventually come into compliance and that the original motion also required an annual review.
“I don’t understand why we wouldn’t responsibly choose to come into come into compliance because this issue has been made apparent to us at this time as oppose to further down the line,” she said.