Planning Commissioners Don’t Like Proposed Public Hearing Rule

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The Raleigh Planning Commission debated a new policy Tuesday that would allow the Raleigh City Council to avoid holding public hearings for certain cases. The proposal could give councilors the power to deny holding a public hearing on a rezoning request they don’t like.

The policy is part of the Unified Development Ordinance, a major overhaul of the city’s existing zoning code. It is meant to work directly with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan by outlining the guidelines that would enable the city to reach its planning goals.

Planning Commissioners, who have been reviewing the new code before sending it to city council, are working their way through public comments made on the proposals earlier this year.

Commissioners took up a concern in one comment about moving public hearings in the rezoning process. The comment referenced the policy that would change the way the city handles public hearings for rezoning applications, text changes and comprehensive plan amendments.

Today’s Process
Say you’re a land owner who wants to redevelop part of your property into a three-floor apartment building, with retail stores on the ground floor. Your property isn’t zoned for that kind of use, so you file a rezoning application.

Your application would be heard at a quarterly public hearing with the Planning Commission and the City Council. From there, your application is sent to be completely reviewed by the Planning Commission, which will issue its recommendation to council for approval or denial. Councilors will use the recommendation as a guide to decide the fate of your application.

The Proposed New Process
The new code would put the public hearing at the end of the process instead of at the beginning.

City planning staff has said that this will give the public, and the council, a more complete view of the project. Today, it is common for many changes to be made during the commission’s review process, making the application different from when it was first heard.

Your application would be submitted directly to the Planning Commission, which would recommend for or against a public hearing instead of approval or denial. The City Council would vote to hold a public hearing and then finally vote on your request.

The Controversy
Even if the Planning Commission recommends that a public hearing be held, the City Council can vote against having a hearing, which would effectively deny the application.

Resident David York said the council could deny a hearing for no reason other than that they were tired of hearing about it.

“There’s no guidance for what the council has to determine to deny a public hearing,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Isabel Mattox said by not compelling the Council to hold a public hearing, the council could dodge approving controversial cases. She lobbied for changing the policy so that the commission would still recommend approval or denial and that a public hearing is required for all cases.

Commission members debated the change for about 45 minutes before finally deciding to defer it until its next meeting in order to come up with some kind of policy that addresses everyone’s concerns.

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