Planning Commission Considers Rule Changes

     The City of Homer Planning Commission is considering changes to its rules that would solidify a policy about how many meetings a commissioner could miss before losing their seat. Changes also could require fewer members to approve measures.

     The Planning Commission is one of the most powerful bodies in city government. It approves and enforces things like zoning issues and conditional-use permits. So if there aren’t enough people attending one of its regular meetings, delays happen. During the meeting Wednesday night, only four of the seven members were in attendance. 

     They also had to postpone a discussion about the city’s definition of “discontinued” in its zoning code because Commission Chair Franco Venuti had a perceived conflict of interest with that issue. And the commission must actually approve his perceived conflict, but with only three members left to vote that wasn’t even possible. 

    Changes to the number of required votes to approve items could make things run a little smoother. The commission is considering needing only four votes for variance requests or conditional-use permit approvals. Those items currently need a five-vote majority. During the commission’s work session before the meeting, Planning Technician Julie Engebretsen mentioned the delays make life more difficult for applicants.

     “I don’t ever want to be in this position as staff having to tell an applicant ‘I’m sorry, twice in a row we have to delay your conditional use permit for six weeks.’ And we also in the past have had to schedule special meetings or work around time frames. And that’s really hard on the applicant,” she said.

     Commissioner Larry Sloan said he thinks a four-vote, simple majority makes sense because the city Planning Department has already done most of the leg-work for an issue.

     “Most of the preliminary work is done by the staff. The staff has already reviewed it to make sure it complies with the ordinance… so that being the case, for the most part, all our job is as commissioners is to rubberstamp it,” he said.

     There will be more discussion about this rule change during the commission’s next regular meeting. Another amendment could change the number of unexcused absences allowed before a commissioner is voted off the board. 

     Sloan mentioned he would like to see a new rule that allows three consecutive unexcused absences or six missed meetings over the course of a calendar year before someone is possibly removed. 

     “Really you’re not conducting the public’s business as well as you should if you’ve missed more than three. You need to make arrangements to organize your time so that you don’t miss any more than three,” he said.

     Commissioner Roberta Highland was learning more toward allowing four absences. She said it’s difficult to find people willing to fill vacancies.

     “And so, to make it more difficult and to tell people if you miss so many then you’re off, I think we would be possibly shooting ourselves in the foot,” she said.

     “But, there’s the other side of it in that there’s a responsibility with coming and take one of these seats,” Planning Commission Chair Venuti said. “And I’ve been involved with this for four years and I’ve only missed one because I was too sick to attend…. It’s a real responsibility and a commitment you have to make.”

     Commissioner Jennifer Sonneborn said some flexibility in attendance might be necessary for the future of the group. 

     “It’s a volunteer position… people do it for years and years… the more flexible the commission can be, the more likely they are to keep functioning,” she said.

     The rule changes will come up again during the commission’s next meeting, which is set for Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m. A work session is scheduled for 5:30 that evening.