City moves ahead with zoning process change

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | 7:44 p.m. CDT; updated 8:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The City Council discussed a proposed draft of a new Planning and Zoning ordinance Monday night that would reduce the number of public hearings in the city’s development process.
The new ordinance would put Planning and Zoning recommendations with two or less dissenting votes directly onto the council’s consent agenda, bypassing the required public hearing at the council level.
However, any interested party who wants to discuss a project still could request an opportunity to voice concerns at City Council meetings. The proposed ordinance is part of a comprehensive effort to streamline the city’s development process, Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said. Putting a Planning and Zoning recommendation with little opposition onto the council’s consent agenda would reduce duplicate public hearings, which Wade said have little value. The process would then be more efficient for everyone, Wade said.
As the council discussed the ordinance, City Manager Bill Watkins pointed out a potential problem: If a resident would like to discuss a proposed project at a public council hearing even if it has already been placed on the consent agenda, how would the city comply with the required 15-day notice of public hearings?
Mayor Darwin Hindman said “it’s human nature” to talk about what happened over the weekend, get interested in a project or city action and then want to talk about it at a public hearing.
Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku asked how much time the ordinance would actually save, because most of the time, unless a project is contentious, the council zooms right through the public hearing.
But Wade defended the ordinance, saying it might not save the council much time, but it saves city staff and the developer time and money by not requiring them to appear at a public council hearing. Plus, he added, the ordinance already had a public hearing before the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission and been on the agenda for a month.
Council members also expressed some concern over the fact that two dissenting votes on the commission could still put a project on the consent agenda. Wade said he would be comfortable changing the language to one or zero dissenting votes “because two sends a little different message.”
The council referred the ordinance draft back to the commission for comment.
“It’s the first step we have to make at beginning to improve our process,” Wade said.

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