Letter to the Editor: Frustration Concerning Planning & Zoning
On Oct. 7, we attended Orangeville City Planning and Zoning meeting. The regular monthly meeting we intended to attend had been changed to a training meeting. Our experience the past few months has left several feeling very frustrated about our ability to voice concerns at planning and zoning and city council meetings. It appears that our efforts to be involved in our city government have prompted the commission to require citizens to fill out an application to be on their agenda. This application will need to be handed in one week before the planning and zoning meetings. Citizens will also be required to review applicable policies or ordinances prior to handing in the application. We appreciate the fact that the commission will be advocates in helping citizens obtain copies of the ordinances by making this requirement. One of our concerns with recent situations is citizens trying to get a copy of the code or ordinance even after they have been accused of a violation. One citizen, (mentioned in the previous letter to the editor) who had been taken off the agenda was encouraged by other citizens to continue to attend meetings and voice his concerns. This same citizen requested information on ordinances at a recent planning and zoning meeting. Others pleaded with the zoning administrator to just give him a copy or show us where the policy was. This plea was to no avail. This citizen had been requesting information or copies for almost two months.
It was determined in this meeting that citizens would be required to take to the zoning administrator and if they were told "no", they would be referred by him to the board of adjustments. The same citizen mentioned above, persisted in coming to planning and zoning even though attempts to get on the agenda had failed, because he was allowed to speak briefly. There were members who were advocating that he did not have the right to speak while others insisted that he should be heard because he had tried to get on the agenda. This citizen and others are grateful to these members of the commission for listening to him and would like to see this kind of sensitivity given to all of the citizens with concerns. Because this citizen was allowed to take at this meeting and voiced his concern to the city council, members on the council and the commission looked further into this situation. It has recently been determined that the findings of the zoning administrator were inaccurate. This point is being made, not to point fingers at anyone, but to point out that citizens need to be allowed to voice concerns to the planning and zoning commission regardless of the decision of the administrator. City policies and ordinances can be interpreted in many different ways by any one individual. We feel that the purpose of the commission is to look at these interpretations and work through the codes and ordinances with citizens. We want to be included in the discussions and we want all members of the planning and zoning commission to hear individual needs and concerns. We appreciate having new members on these committees who have demonstrated a willingness to listen and work with citizens.
We would like the option of filling out the application, talking with our zoning administrator and speaking with the planning and zoning commission before we are referred to the board of adjustments. In many cases there should be no need to go to the board of adjustments. We would hope that any issue that could be referred to the board of adjustments would be referred by the commission with input from the administrator. We believe some of these situations may even command a vote. This sequence enables citizens to advocate for themselves and others. Citizens may even feel that their city government is advocating for them.
In Orangeville, only the zoning administrator gives the OK or denial to a request. He also enforces policies. If a citizen is sent tot he board of adjustments, they are put in a situation where they must request a change in his decision. This process does not reflect input from the planning and zoning commission, and very little input from the citizen. The communication process is crippled. In a previous appeal, the citizens were told that, "It is illegal for the board of adjustments to overturn the decision of the zoning administrator." We would ask the planning and zoning commission to review their responsibilities as volunteers on this board. The commission needs to have input in making decisions, as well as citizens. The zoning administrator should enforce those decisions made by the commission. The commission should make the referral to the board of adjustments based on the decision of the commission.
In a recent situation involving a citizen and carport, (mentioned in the previous letter to the editor) the citizen and the planning and zoning commission were given wrong information. This prompted citizens who had no other place to turn to go to the inspector. This led to some kind of city meeting the building inspector attended. We are not sure if this was a public meeting but several city officials and volunteers attended. In similar situations, if citizens are not allowed to go to the planning and zoning commission to voice concerns, receive input, ask questions or get other feedback, they will have no choice but to look elsewhere for answers. As citizens who have been in this kind of situation, this can be very discouraging. It is our hope that our city officials and volunteers will make every effort to allow us opportunities to come to them, rather than giving us more restrictions.
We have experienced first hand the results of a lack of communication and hope we can prevent others from the same thing. We need to open the doors, not take steps to close them.
As citizens, we feel there are many problems due to a lack of communication. If we are skirted around the zoning committee and the board of adjustments deem they cannot legally overturn decisions, there is no point to the process.
There is an old adage, "You can't fight city Hall." We have been very active in encouraging citizens to work with city hall and attend meetings. We don't want to feel like we, "Can't speak to city hall."
Citizens involved in the recent letter to the editor stated, "almost 400 signatures" on the petition mentioned. At planning and zoning this number was in question due to the petitioner's lack of knowledge that the petition would require certification at the courthouse to determine registered voters. Citizens are expressing concern about owning property and paying city taxes while not being given the right to stay on the petition. The number of signatures is still in question but it is hoped the point is still taken in the previous letter.