Process, ethics clarified in joint Council and Planning Commission meeting
- Published: September 22, 2021
In recent months, a number of conditional use applications for construction projects around the village have either been approved by the Village’s Planning Commission, or are in the pipeline for approval. The Planning Commission, whose members have the responsibility of approving construction projects on behalf of the village, must navigate current and changing ordinance rules as established by Village Council.
How best to interpret the ordinances was part of the conversation at a joint meeting between Planning Commission and Village Council on Aug. 30.
The meeting was scheduled at the behest of Council President Brian Housh in an effort to better clarify Planning Commission roles and responsibilities in the zoning approval process.
“I have gotten the sense that our communications aren’t always as rich as they could be, and so I’d like to make sure that we are communicating in a way that Council is not getting in the way of Planning Commission and [that] Planning Commission understands Council policy,” Housh said.
The importance of establishing clear directives can be seen in recent Planning Commission dockets, in which conditional use applications were approved for diverse projects, including a new location for public radio station WYSO at 314 Dayton St., in a building owned by comedian Dave Chapelle’s company, Iron Table Holdings. Other projects approved by the commission include the Lumber Yard Market and Eatery at 108 Cliff St., and the expansion of Cresco Labs at 1130 Springs Way and zoning applications that encourage multifamily and pocket neighborhood concepts such as the recently completed Glen Cottages sponsored by YS Home, Inc. Navigating changing directives regarding transient guest lodging, or TGLs, has also been spotlighted in recent Planning Commission meetings.
These projects, along with the establishment of a Village building department that will oversee the approval of building permits and with the new challenge of interpreting recently enhanced TGL regulations, require that village staff, Council and Planning Commission are on the same page in following best practices, policies and ethics guidelines.
Land annexation also falls within the sightline of Planning Commission, as exemplified in the recent process involving the Oberer housing development located on the south side of the village, just off Spillan Road. The speed with which projects can be approved by the commission will also increase, following the approval of the village building department by Council in July. The burgeoning department cleared the final hurdle with state approval and is now fully operational, as was announced at the Sept. 7 Council meeting. Budget appropriation is largely in the purview of the village zoning and development department.
During the Aug. 30 joint meeting, Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels explained the nuts and bolts of both groups’ legislative and executive functions. Planning Commission has five members that are appointed by Council. One of the members also serves on Village Council. Members are appointed for five years, staggered, and no more than one member can live outside of the village.
According to Parcels, Planning Commission is given its legislative and executive power through the Village Charter, and is responsible for recommending zoning and approving platting changes.
The commission has both legislative and quasi-legislative authority. “It operates from a legislative capacity when the commission adopts a general rule or policy applicable to a wide class of individuals, interests or situations,” Parcels said. Parcels also emphasized ethics during her presentation. Under Ohio ethics law, conflicts of interest are not the only focus of the law; the appearance of impropriety is considered, according to Parcels.
“Actual conflict of interest is not required. If a Planning Commission member appears to have engaged in self-dealing, it is an issue of public perception, which in the eyes of the law is equivalent to public trust,” Parcels said.
Council member Marianne MacQueen asked Parcels about the process needed to re-examine zoning laws through the establishment of a task force. She gave both real and hypothetical examples of other communities that have changed their zoning laws to allow for groups of neighbors to combine their land to do joint projects, such as gardening or opening a home business.
According to Parcels, “Council would be the first step — changing zoning code that could have a big effect on land use throughout the village would have to start with Council.”
She also said that there is no mechanism in the current Village codes to set up a task force. “It would be assigned to staff to research,” Parcels said.
The process for approving planned unit developments or PUDs was also reviewed. PUDs in Yellow Springs are typically five acres, but some have been smaller, according to zoning administrator Denise Swinger.
PUDs are usually single-family homes, but can be condos or townhouses. The community sometimes belongs to a homeowner’s association, or HOA.
According to Swinger, the application process for PUDs includes an extra step if it is less than five acres, which is, the applicant must approach Council to get permission to build a community on less than five acres. If Council approves the request, then the applicant meets with Village staff for a preliminary meeting to discuss infrastructure and utilities needed for the project. After meeting with staff, then the next stage involves submitting an application and requesting a working session with the Planning Commission. The purpose of that meeting is to review the plan and allow members to ask for specific information and provide feedback on the application before the public hearing. A public hearing is then scheduled with the commission, during which the commission will approve or deny the application.
“The process takes a minimum of three to four months to get through the PUD process,” Swinger said.
“The process can take longer if there are major changes,” she added.
Commission chair Frank Doden created a cheat sheet of sorts to help members better interpret the zoning codes after a previous experience with the Millworks approval process took longer because of confusion with the process.
“Part of the confusion was the way the code was written out,” he said.
Doden wrote up a script that was eventually distributed to the commission so that the process “makes more sense to the commission and the public,” he said.
In a follow-up discussion, Housh concluded that commission processes needed to be better integrated.
“In terms of Council goal setting and strategic planning, [Council] needs to be deliberate in thinking about the Planning Commission process,” he said.
Commission member Matthew Kirk asked that Council consider proactively adjusting the zoning code “to try to drive more multifamily projects whether it is an apartment building or it is fourplexes or duplexes or whatever.”
“[We need to be] finding ways we can make things more frictionless to be integrated into infills or other developments,” Kirk concluded.
Housh was open to the suggestion, saying, “I hope that is something we can explore.”
Present at the meeting were Council President Brian Housh, Vice President Marianne MacQueen and Council members Kevin Stokes, Lisa Kreeger and Laura Curliss. Planning Commission members Frank Doden, chair, Matthew Kirk, Stephen Green, Sarah Amend, Susan Stiles and Gary Zaremsky were also present.
An upcoming conditional use application hearing will be held for a proposed comedy club and restaurant owned by Iron Table Holdings at 225 Corry St. at the next Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday Sept. 14 at 7 pm.