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Land use commissions’ collaboration on CodeNEXT shows signs of wear

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Months of the land use commissions generally seeing eye-to-eye regarding the CodeNEXT draft text and mapping may be over after tensions flared between members of the Planning and Zoning and Platting commissions during their May 30 joint meeting.

Just before the commissions met last Tuesday night to hear from staff and consultants about the methodology that was used to draw the CodeNEXT maps, the Zoning and Platting Commission unanimously adopted a letter of recommendation to City Council about CodeNEXT during a special called meeting. In addition to its criticisms of the draft code, the letter explicitly asks Council to pump the brakes on the review process.

“The timeline for the examination, modification, and adoption of CodeNEXT is unreasonably rapid, requiring comments and recommendations within a month of the release of modified mapping,” the letter reads. “The rewrite of the land development code is sufficiently important that we should take the time to do it right.”

At the joint meeting, Planning Commission Chair Stephen Oliver announced that the Planning Commission was also squeezed for time and would not be making the June 7 deadline to turn in feedback on the first draft of the text. “There are things that we haven’t been able to look at to see how all these pieces fit together,” Oliver said at the meeting, “so it’s kind of hard to give a holistic first pass, but we’re going to do our best to have comments after we get a little bit more educated.”

Although both commissions say they need more time to study the new code, the Zoning and Platting Commission has been more forthright in sharing its opinion on CodeNEXT, not only with its recent letter but also with a letter adopted in March asking Council to delay the release of the map.

Planning Commissioner Fayez Kazi was the first to point out this distinction at the joint meeting. “Unlike ZAP, I feel less inclined and less prepared to comment on the complexity, or number of tools, or how the code is going to be rolled out and implemented, just because I can’t get past step one,” Kazi said. “Unless we put to rest what the methodology was (for the drafting process), I can’t move forward.”

In response, Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Jolene Kiolbassa defended her commission’s letter and stance. “We felt it was best to give everyone a head’s up that this is not workable,” she said.

The Zoning and Platting Commission worked together as one group to develop its letter of recommendation. The Planning Commission has divided into three groups, one each for the text, mapping and procedure in order to get a better grasp on the details of the draft code.

“We could spend an additional month to go deeper and deeper into understanding it, but there were some fundamental concerns that we had,” said Zoning and Platting Commissioner Sunil Lavani. “I have a feeling that the Planning Commission has similar concerns, but I don’t know if the concerns would necessarily be resolved if we dive deeper or go further into it.”

While not disagreeing with the Zoning and Platting Commission’s call for more time, Oliver cautioned that being too antagonistic could bring the whole process to a grinding halt. “A lot of people are looking to us for leadership,” he said. “If we do not (stay solution-oriented), it’s easy just to keep slowing down until next thing you know you’re not moving.”

Photo by John Flynn.

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