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Environmental Board chair says zoning matters not in their purview

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

With two Planned Unit Developments and a Municipal Utility District on the last agenda, Environmental Board Chair Mary Gay Maxwell took a stand, making it clear that her board was not a zoning commission.


“The purview of the Environmental Board is environmental. It’s about environmental treatments, it’s about water quality. It is not about zoning. We do not have that authority as a board,” said Maxwell. “And I want that to be very, very clear.”


Maxwell expressed frustration that the board has not been able to get posting language changed to accurately reflect the prescribed role of the board. As an alternative, she led the charge to make two separate motions on the PUD cases that came before the board. One motion, explicitly stating that there would be no recommendation on the worth of the PUD, and another, which directly addressed the environmental aspects of the application.


“We’re going to have two motions, every time we see a PUD, until it gets cleared up. Because it puts us in a very awkward position,” said Maxwell.


“We are not the zoning board or commission. We are the Environmental Board. We have nothing to with zoning and land use kinds of issues,” said Maxwell. “If you want to look in the bylaws, it says, ‘review PUDs,’ but that’s a problem right now, and I’m going to do something about that later in the meeting.”


Currently, the bylaws of the board give power to review PUDs, but do not delineate further than that. Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak told In Fact Daily that currently, there are no qualifiers associated with the board’s review of the developments.


“As it stands today, if they chose to, they could look at any aspect of a PUD,” said Lesniak. “There’s no statutory limitation on that.”


“We need to figure out how to get it changed so that we don’t have to go through what we went through tonight again and again,” said Maxwell. “Really and truly, if people know that what we want to know about in detail is the environmental treatment on a PUD, they’ll be better prepared… Otherwise, it just looks like we are rubber stamping them.”


Maxwell specifically cited last year’s approval of the RunTex PUD on South First Street and Riverside Drive, noting that in addition to its approval of the environmental aspects of the development, the board had authored a “significant minority report.” City Council approved the RunTex development in October of last year.


Board Member Mary Ann Neely added that she would like to have a discussion on what constitutes superiority in PUDs, to better clarify what those standards are.


“Is it based on what they could do without this PUD? Or is it based on our idea of superiority?” asked Neely. “I’d like to have a discussion about that, because I’m kind of confused and frustrated.”


The board will take up the issue at their Water Quality Regulations Committee, sometime next month.


For both PUD cases, the initial motions, which stated the board would not make any recommendations on the PUD, passed unanimously. Board Member James Schissler was absent.


“As it’s written in the agenda, it’s saying that we have to approve or disapprove of the PUD. The first motion addresses that, and says ‘look, it’s outside of the Environmental Board’s purview to say up or down on a PUD, but what we can speak about . . . are the environmental merits and significance of such a proposed PUD,” said Board Member Robin Gary.

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