Changes in store for planning commission staff reports
Information that has recently been challenged by local developers will no longer be included in the city staff reports that go to the planning commission and to the city council when they make their decisions on developers' requests for such things as rezonings.
Beginning in May, the staff reports used by commissioners and council members to decide such things as rezoning requests, general plan amendments and subdivision plats will be strictly limited to the four to six issues a city is supposed to take under consideration by state law, said Mike Steele, the city's director of community development.
Steele said the changes are needed to reduce staff time spent on the reports and to clarify for commissioners and council members what their obligations are by state law.
Gone will be any reference to how many new students residential developments will pump into local schools, or any staff direction on such things as mailbox type and placement or even the size of underground pipes to install so that phone and cable lines will be sized correctly for telephones and cable hookups. Also to be eliminated are any references to the amount of water and sewer new developments will use.
The impact that new developments have on city schools and on city infrastructure has recently been a bone of contention between some members of the public and school officials and the local development community.
In recent months developers have also publicly challenged the appropriateness of the city telling them what to do about underground phone lines and about mailboxes at the request of officials from Qwest and the local post office.
Steele initially told The Sun that the local development community hadn't put any pressure on the city to revise the information contained in the reports nor had he discussed it with them.
However, Ron Watson, a local broker and self-described spokesman for the development community, told The Sun he had talked to Steele about the staff reports and had offered him suggestions.
When told about Watson's statements, Steele said that he had taken the revised staff report format to the development community and asked them what they thought of it.
Steele said the city will continue to privately provide Yuma's school districts with information on the cases that come before the planning commission. And if the public wants to know how many students a new subdivision will add to a particular school, people can call the school district directly, Steele added.
One school district official contacted by The Sun for his reaction to the simplified reports said it was the first he'd heard of it.
Gus Headington, Yuma Union High School District superintendent, said he's disappointed in the city's decision to eliminate such information from its public reports but his concerns will be lessened as long as the city continues to provide the schools with information about any proposed residential developments.
Headington said he's concerned about the influence that Yuma's development and real estate community have on the city.
"The development and real estate people have been very successful in their lobbying," Headington said.
For an example of that, he said, all one has to do is look at the makeup of the city's recently announced citizen committee on impact fees. He said the committee is almost entirely made up of professionals from the development community.
The committee is supposed to help the city council revamp the impact fees that developers pay.
Headington said that when his school board saw the list of names, several of them were very upset.
Watson declined to comment on the makeup of the impact fee committee, except to say that he wouldn't argue that the committee is heavily weighted with members of the development community.
As for staff reports eliminating information about the number of students a proposed development will add to local schools, Watson said, "That information is essentially useless."
He explained that just because the information is out there doesn't mean that new schools are going to be built any faster than they are. Building schools takes time, he added.
Other changes to the staff reports are planned, too.
"We will no longer be asking for general comments from other city departments (such as fire and public works)," Steele said in a memorandum to Deputy City Administrator Bob Stull. "Instead we will be asking their staff if they wish to add a 'Condition of Approval.' If not, then no comment is needed.'
The only non-city comments that will continue to be included in the reports are those from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Steele said.
"We will continue to review and include their comments or conditions, as there are certain laws that allow them to do so," Steele wrote in his memo.
Once the new format is in place, the staff report for each developer's request should only be about a page long, city officials have said. Currently such reports can take several pages and sometimes include a history of the property and any problems it has had.