Changes to zoning procedures will reduce public hearings

Monday, February 2, 2009 | 10:38 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A change in procedure that will eliminate some duplicate public hearings for rezoning and development proposals won the approval of the Columbia City Council on Monday night.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the measure after amending it twice. The zoning procedures under the changes now allow some rezoning and development proposals to bypass a public hearing before the council if a first hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission produces little dissent.

Several specific criteria must be met before a matter can be sent from the commission directly to the council's consent agenda, which is reserved for matters deemed so routine that they merit no public discussion. At least 75 percent of Planning and Zoning Commissioners who are present at an initial public hearing must approve the proposal and the applicant must agree with the commission's recommendations.

Even when those criteria are met, a member of the public or a councilperson can have the item removed from the consent agenda if they petition the city clerk by noon on the Wednesday before the council meeting during which the measure is scheduled for a vote.

The council amended the bill Monday to remove an additional criterion that prevented zoning proposals from appearing on the consent agenda if anyone spoke or submitted written comments against the proposal. Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade proposed the amendment, arguing that it undermined the purpose of the bill.

"That is a subjective criteria," Wade said during the meeting. "The other four criteria are very clear ... That is just a very poor criteria to eliminate something from going onto the consent agenda. Furthermore, there are a lot of opportunities for it to be pulled off the consent agenda. It is a very simple task to contact the city clerk's office and request that."

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala countered Wade, saying that encouraging citizens to actively participate was a positive aspect of that criterion.

"This is just one more thing to make it more difficult for the public to participate in the process," Skala said.

The amendment proposed by Wade passed by a vote of 5 to 2. Skala and Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku voted in opposition.

The second amendment to the bill, proposed by Mayor Darwin Hindman, allows the council to remove a zoning bill from the consent agenda and place it under old business at the council meeting when the bill is scheduled to be considered for passage. The amendment was suggested as a fail-safe for individuals that Hindman described as "not sophisticated with city procedures."

"I think that people are going to feel that the sophisticated side got the advantage and got the job done," Hindman said. "I'm going to suggest that we compromise to (the amendment's) extent."

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