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Planning Commission inaction stymies Dunkerley at final meeting

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 by Mark Richardson

The City Council usually grants first requests for postponements on zoning cases without much attention. However, one case at Council last Wednesday drew an extended discussion and rankled a couple of members – including outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley.

The case, officially known as C14-2007-0144, is a zoning change on the property at 800 West Avenue from general office (GO) and limited office (LO) to downtown mixed use-conditional overlay (DMU-CO). Developers plan a 25-story residential high rise on the spot.

City staff was ready to go forward with a vote to approve the DMU-CO, when Ben Proctor, a resident of the neighborhood who has put forth a petition against the zoning change, stepped up and asked for a postponement for extra time to study the project.

That is when Dunkerley got a little steamed – not at Proctor for asking for the delay, but at how long it had taken for the case to get back to Council after its first reading approval in November 2007.

“Is this one of the items I had asked to come back before the Council before the 18th?” she asked of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning’s Greg Gurnsey.

“Yes it is,” he replied.

“And how long was it held at the Planning Commission?” she asked.

Gurnsey replied that the Planning Commission reviewed this item and then sent it back to a subcommittee, then they considered it several times. He said staff brought it back one more time to the commission and they again sent it back to their subcommittee.

“About how many weeks did this take?” Dunkerley asked

“It spent about two months at the Planning Commission,” Gurnsey replied.

Dunkerley, clearly upset by the turn of events, expressed frustration over the process.

“This is really my concern,” she said. “I’d like to have the advice of the commission, whatever it is. If they think it needs to be denied, that’s fine or if it thinks it needs to be accepted. But I would hope in the future, the council would like to get it back by a certain time. They would at least make those decisions whether it is up or down and send it on to us. If they had done that, we could have had a lot of postponements and I would still have been able to have my two cents worth. But this is my last day, and that is my frustration over this, because I asked this a long time ago and it is just now getting here.”

Council Member Brewster McCracken echoed Dunkerley’s frustration.

“All the processes work if we are all operating from the same set of expectations,” he said. “In my recollection, we had a projected return time on the DMU-CURE code change we had the public hearing for tonight.” The Council is considering changing that particular zoning designation to make it more flexible.

He asked Gurnsey when the code change was projected to come back to Council.

“I indicated to Council we could do it in about 90 days, then we would have brought it back some time in February,” Gurnsey said. “In reality, it probably did not get to the commission and was not able to get to you because of actions taken by the commission, probably in the end of February or about that time. And so in March, we put on the commission agenda for their action. They sent it back to subcommittee and it kind of stayed in subcommittee for the commission going back and forth for the next two or so months.”

Mayor Wynn allowed Proctor to speak to the Council regarding his request for a delay, then reminded Council members that it is the council’s policy to automatically grant a party’s first request for a postponement. 

“We do have a long-standing tradition that we honor postponement requests but we’ve never had anything like this,” McCracken said “The Planning Commission refused to, they just deep sixed something the Council expected to have back three or four months ago. I’m very bothered by that because everybody is operating under the belief when we said we would take this up in February last November that it was going to happen. And now here we are, end of June, and the sponsor of the code change isn’t even able to vote on it.”

Mayor Wynn agreed, up to a point.

“I do share the frustration of the Mayor Pro Tem and Council Member McCracken when it takes a year or more to get a case back to us,” he said. “But I personally would be supportive of the postponement request recognizing that this is the first request by neighboring property owners. “

Dunkerley moved to go ahead and approve the rezoning case on second and third reading, denying the postponement request.

However, Council Member Lee Leffingwell, saying he supported approval of the project but felt the Council was honor bound to approve the postponement, offered a substitute motion to postpone the case until July 24.

That measure passed on a 4-3 vote, with Dunkerley, McCracken and Council Member Sheryl Cole voting no.

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