RCL Discussion: Is the Planning Department and Boards Communicating Effectively?

F or the South Road Development, the RCL asked that documentation be put online and at the Library so people could review before the Public Hearing.  The Planning Administrator’s response was that people could go to Town Hall M-F 8am to 5pm.  She also said for Zoning Amendments they could read the information in the glass cases out side of town Hall.  If you think the town can do a better job  communicating and having information available please contact the Board of Selectmen.

The RCL took pictures of the documentation.     Click Here for the online dropbox link.

From December 2015:

Civic League Analysis-Zoning Ordinance Amendment Public Notice and Public Input

Introduction

Members of the public complained at the December 8th and December 22nd, 2015 Planning Board public hearings, as well as during the Rules and Regulations meeting on December 15th, that the 2016 Proposed Zoning Amendments had been poorly advertised.

It appears that all meetings were legally noticed, at the minimum of what is required by law, but not “advertised” in any substantive fashion. Systemic issues in the meetings notifications process, the difficulty in following what is discussed in work sessions in person, in the minutes, and via video and the lack of public education and outreach for input through out the process led at least in part to the tabling of the 2 amendments.

The Zoning Amendment Process

The process of studying, and drafting zoning amendments may be initiated by members of the Planning Board, Town’s legal counsel due to changes in state or federal law requiring changes to Rye’s Ordinance, Town staff, other boards and commissions, via a citizen proposing to the board, or via a citizen petition amendment which may or may not be eventually recommended by the Planning Board.

  • In the case of the Wetlands Overlay the amendment was initiated by the Conservation Commission with funding from the Planning Board for study and drafting.
  • In the case of the Certificate of Occupancy the amendment was initiated by the Building Inspector.

Neither of these amendments had ad-hoc citizen input in the drafting process beyond a very few comments offered by 2 citizens who each attended, alone, many of the Rules and Regs meetings.

The Steps in the Process

  1. An amendment is first discussed and worked on by the Planning Board Rules and Regulations sub committee. In the case of the Wetlands amendment this was in collaboration with the Conservation Commission consultant responsible for study and initial drafting. After initial drafting the Town attorney reviews and suggests changes and edits.
  2. Rules and Regulations meeting are public but “work sessions” and generally do not allow public input, but there are rare exceptions especially if there is a crowd. The drafts are “on paper” and are not freely distributed to the public in attendance, occasionally a copy is provided to the public to follow along, but the public can never the leave the meeting with a copy of a draft.
  3. Following what is being discussed in person, in the minutes of these meetings and even via the recent online video (see timeline below) is very difficult, if not impossible, to say the least, particularly for long complex amendments (11 pages) such as the proposed Wetlands. See Minutes example: http://www.town.rye.nh.us/Pages/RyeNH_PlanningMin/Subcommittee Minutes/Rules_Regs/RR_Minutes_11-17-15.pdf
  4. After an amendment leaves the Rules and Regulations Committee the Planning Board discusses it with public comment at the discretion of the Chairman.  Again the topic may be difficult to follow. The board may chose to vote to schedule the amendment for a Public Hearing or return to the Rules and Regs Committee for further work.

Why Didn’t Citizens Know More about the Zoning Amendments ahead of their Public Hearings

The timeline below details the notifications for the 2016 Zoning Amendments discussed at the Dec 22nd meeting along with other amendments discussed and moved to the ballot or tabled in 2015.

Planning and Zoning administrator, Kim Reed, posted agendas of Rules and Regulations meetings only a couple of days prior to the dates of the meetings in 3 instances for a total of 7 meetings.  In addition, the notices of agenda were not sent through the Town electronic notification system for those who subscribe to it, but for the December 15th meeting.  One meeting – in September – was cancelled by simply removing the agenda from the Town website and without posting/ sending notification of cancellation.

By not sending electronic notices via the Town system, as was the case for the year 2014, for regular planning board meetings and Technical Review Committee meetings, it was extremely difficult to be informed without having to check the Town website on a daily basis.

Only very recently, and probably in response to criticism, a page was created and listed under the Planning Board to inform the public about the “2016 Proposed Zoning Amendments.”http://www.town.rye.nh.us/Pages/RyeNH_BComm/Planning/2016_Proposed%20Zoning%20Amendments.pdf/

2015  Notification Timeline Specifics

July 6, 2015. Rules and Regulations agenda.  Notice of agenda was not sent via the Town electronic notification system to the list of subscribers – individuals who have signed up to receive electronic notifications of planning board meetings.

August 8, 2015. Rules and Regulations agenda.  The meeting was not recorded via the Town online video streaming.  A citizen, Peter Crawford, who attended the meeting specifically requested that all future meetings be recorded according to the requirements of a warrant article passed in March 2015.  Notice of agenda was not sent via the Town electronic notification system to the list of subscribers.

August 26, 2015.  Rules and Regulations agenda.  The agenda was posted only two days prior to the meeting.  Notice of agenda was not sent via the Town electronic distribution system to the list of subscribers.

September 22, 2015.  There is no agenda posted on the Town website, however the meeting was scheduled to be recorded.  Incidentally, the Planning and Zoning administrator removed the agenda notice from the website without cancelling the meeting.  A citizen showed up at Town Hall at 7:30 am to attend meeting, however, was told that meeting had been cancelled  (without any notification) and that he should address any complaints to he Chair of the Rules and Regulations.

October 6, 2015.  Rules and Regulations agenda.  Notice of agenda was not sent via the Town electronic distribution system to the list of subscribers.

October 28, 2015.  Rules and Regulations agenda.  The agenda was posted only two days prior to the meeting.  Notice of agenda was not sent via the Town electronic distribution system to the list of subscribers.

November 05, 2015.  Rules and Regulations meeting was cancelled one day prior to the meeting.   Only cancellation meeting was sent via the Town electronic distribution system to the list of subscribers.

November 17, 2015.  Rules and Regulations agenda.  The agenda was posted only one day prior to the meeting.  Notice of agenda was not sent via the Town electronic distribution system to the list of subscribers.

December 15, 2015.  A special Rules and Regulations agenda was scheduled in response to considerable “push back” from the public during the Planning Board public hearing on December 8th, 2015. A notification via the Town electronic distribution system was sent to the list of subscribers.

When combined with the difficulty in following what is being discussed in person, in minutes, and even in the online video it is not surprising the public felt left out of the process prior to the public hearings on these amendments.

One Response to “RCL Discussion: Is the Planning Department and Boards Communicating Effectively?” Subscribe

  1. Jennifer Madden January 4, 2016 at 12:12 am #

    Thank you, Steven.
    I think outreach by the advocates of proposed amendments would be helpful. For example, if the advocate publicizes the meeting in all the appropriate ways, and no one from the public attends the meeting, does it make sense to continue with the meeting? Or postpone and reach out to some stakeholders? For example – Conservation Commission – ID’ing property that abuts wetlands; or rental properties – ID’g the property owners of these units…this information is available in the assessors office. While it may not be 100% accurate or reach 100% of impacted residents, it’s a good start. And while it may be cumbersome, it’s probably more cumbersome to be put off for a year. In fact, the attempt at collaboration will, in my opinion, yield a more positive result for everyone.
    The bottom line is, there is just too much for the public to keep their eyes on and things get missed.
    Thank you for working to make it better.

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