MINUTES OF THE SPECIAL MEETING OF THE MIDLAND CITY PLANNING COMMISSION

WHICH TOOK PLACE ON TUESDAY,

OCTOBER 23, 2012, 5:30 P.M.,

COUNCIL OVERFLOW CONFERENCE ROOM CITY HALL,

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN

 

1.   Roll Call

PRESENT:   Hanna, Heying, Mead, Senesac, Stewart, and Young (Mr. Young arrived at 6:15 p.m.)

ABSENT:      McLaughlin, Pnacek and Tanzini

OTHERS PRESENT:   Brad Kaye, Director of Planning and Community Development, Cheri King, Community Development Specialist, Cindy Winland, Contract Planner, and no others.

 

2.   New Business

 

      a.   Public Meeting Hearing and Decision Procedure Discussion

 

            Mr. Kaye explained that we are picking up from an earlier discussion on the current processing methods of the city regarding applications.  He suggested that we begin by reviewing the issues behind this discussion to ensure that we are all in agreement on them.

 

Mr. Senesac asked for permission to make a general statement, indicating he felt the two-meeting process was effective, pointing to the public hearing for the development at the corner of Ashman and Waldo Ave. as an example.  No one can say that was not a better site plan after the two meetings, where the neighbors offered input.  Discussion at the second meeting made it a much better site plan than originally proposed.  Then Mr. Senesac stated he tried to think of an example of where the second meeting led the Commission to a worse decision than would have been made after the first meeting.  From a “quality of decision” point of view, erring on the side of the two-meetings does not lead to a worse decision, but the second meeting clearly has led to better decision-making.  Mrs. Hanna agrees. 

 

            Mr. Mead stated he is generally in favor of the two-meeting process.  However, there are times when he feels items can be handled at one meeting. 

 

Mr. Heying responded to Mr. Senesac by stating that proving a second meeting did not result in a worse decision was trying to prove a negative.  He expressed his support for a more streamlined decision process when warranted.  Mr. Kaye clarified that no one is contending that lengthening the process produces worse decisions, only that a more efficient process can also produce quality decisions.

 

            Mr. Kaye stated that there is generally no discussion by the Planning Commission following the public hearing.  The public hearing is closed and they move on to the next topic.  This makes it difficult for staff to know how the Planning Commission is feeling about the petition and what types of questions they might anticipate at the next meeting.  Applicants find this difficult and frustrating since they must then wait another two weeks before hearing any feedback on their project.

 

            Ms. Winland stated there was an issue that Mr. McLaughlin brought up at the last meeting.  This would be to generally approve petitions after one meeting, but, under certain conditions, they could table a petition and reserve further discussion until the next meeting.  The types of conditions under which a decision would typically be tabled would be determined by the Planning Commission.

 

            Mr. Senesac stated he would like to turn it around and have the two-meeting process be the norm and offer approval at the first meeting if there are no issues, no one speaks against the project and it is a “slam dunk”.  He feels a motion to approve at the first meeting should be by a unanimous vote.  If anyone has a problem voting at the first meeting, it should be postponed.  Mr. Kaye and Ms. Winland each expressed serious concerns with this approach, as they do not believe that one person should be able to hold up the entire process. 

 

            Mrs. Hanna stated that the developers know it is a two-meeting process.  You get in trouble if you start mixing it up where sometimes it is a two-meeting process and some meetings it is a one-meeting process.  Mr. Kaye acknowledged this was a concern but reiterated that there needs to be some solid reason if we decide to retain the current two meeting process.  Just because we have always done it this way does not make it right.  The one meeting process, with decisions tabled where warranted, would be more efficient and understandable and would be more acceptable to the applicants coming before us.  Mr. Kaye also expressed his concern that approving an application in one meeting, under the default two meeting process that currently exists, would require a motion waiving our procedural by-laws every time we felt a decision was warranted at the first meeting.

 

            Ms. Winland drew a timeline on the board of the way the process is handled at the present time.  

 

15 day notification – This is required by law.  We can do nothing about this.

      First Planning Commission Meeting – Public hearing  (15 days)

      Second Planning Commission Meeting – Decision  (30 days)

      First City Council Meeting – Set a public hearing  (45 days)

      (Notices are required to be sent out and published for 15 days)

      Second City Council Meeting – Hold public hearing & decision (73 days)

 

            There is more need for site plan approval in a shorter time frame so projects can get underway sooner.  Any delays in a project are costly to an applicant.  It is true that certain Planning Commission members may be uncomfortable voting at the first meeting.  If the majority of the Planning Commission is ready to decide on an application, however, majority rule should prevail. 

 

            Mr. Kaye explained that the current meeting process, both at the Council and Planning Commission levels, also adds additional costs to the approval process on the part of the City.  The meetings have to be advertised in the newspaper on multiple occasions, additional staff time is required to prepare additional reports, and additional staff time is required administratively to handle the process itself.  As staff resources continue to be reduced, this becomes more and more problematic. 

 

            Mr. Young stated that it is still easier to table a decision on an application when warranted than it is to waive our procedures to deal with an application in a single meeting   He previously served five years on another Planning Commission and stated that this is an extremely long period for a developer to wait to have a site plan approved. 

 

            Mr. Kaye stated that there are three primary conditions under which staff would suggest that a second meeting would be warranted, including:

·         There is incomplete information.

·         New information is introduced that requires further research.

·         The public raises an issue that requires further research to determine factual information.

 

Mr. Senesac stated that, if a second meeting is held, action must be taken at that meeting.  City Council does not need to routinely hold another public hearing (saving four weeks and avoiding passing a resolution to set a hearing) when action is recommended by the Planning Commission and there is no public opposition.  Ms. Winland pointed out that site plans unanimously recommended by the Planning Commission and on which no public opposition has been received are approved by City Council on the consent agenda.

 

Mr. Senesac stated that, if there is incomplete information, the Planning Commission should never see it.  Ms. Winland stated that the public could raise issues that staff did not consider and that could be perceived as incomplete information. 

 

Mr. Kaye asked the commission for their opinion on what applications should, or should not, require City Council action.  Mrs. Hanna stated that we really do need the two meetings.  When the City Council sets their public hearing, they could do it all in one meeting. 

Mr. Kaye clarified that he was asking which applications should require City Council approval.  With site plans, for example, there is very little discretion.  Therefore, they are often reviewed at the Planning Commission level or staff level.  Ms. Winland stated that there is no legal issue that states both the Planning Commission and City Council have public hearings.  A public hearing could be held at either level. 

 

            Moving forward with this process, staff will bring the matter back to the Planning Commission for further discussion.  The next step will be for staff to outline the process that would result if the process were to be changed.  Staff will also address the issues with City Council concerning their process of setting and holding public hearings. 

 

3.   Adjourn             

 

      Adjourned at 6:45 p.m.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

 

C. Bradley Kaye, AICP

Director of Planning and Community Development

 

MINUTES ARE NOT FINAL UNTIL APPROVED BY THE PLANNING COMMISSION