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Recommendations for the Olympia City Council to improve planning process

1.  Public Participation
Require the Community Planning and Development Department (CP&D) to comply with the law that defines “party of record” as someone who has submitted substantive comments on a proposal prior to the decision on that proposal.

Require CP&D to maintain a record of public comments, accessible by members of the public.  Require the City to video tape public meetings in order to make the process meaningful and to capture public input.

Require CP&D to prepare a response to substantive comments by the pubic, including answers to specific questions. For example, Mr. Divers asked on April 26, 2011 for confirmation that the original agreement relating to relocation of the alley was still in place “with all terms and conditions enforced.” There was no answer to this request, nor did Mr. Divers receive a notice of the Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) decision.

Provide for an appeal from the SPRC decision to the City Council when a development proposal is located in a transitional zone or on land zoned commercial and abutting residentially zoned areas, similar to the appeal status of planned urban development.
Include in public notices relating to proposed developments 1) whether the appeal is to the City Council or 2) the Hearing Examiner.  If the latter, specify that this is the only means to alter an approval, include the cost of appealing the City’s decision ($1000) and make clear that the Hearing Examiner is employed by the City.  Provide for a refund if the work of citizens results in improvements to or overturns the SPRC decision.

Make available to those proposing to appeal a fact sheet that gives information and cost of requesting reconsideration, including the hourly charge by the Hearing Examiner.  Require an estimate of costs attributable to defending a contested land use approval (LUA) before the City decides whether to go to court.  Clarify whether the City Attorney’s client is the City Council or the staff of the City Departments.

Limit the term of contract with the Hearing Examiner to three years, followed by an audit of decisions, including those that were overturned as a result of challenges.

II.  Site Plan Review Council
Require the SPRC to draft rules of procedure that include appointment of a chairperson for each meeting where there is a decision on a land use approval; and to keep minutes.  Require that the chairperson review the notice of land use approval before it is disseminated.  (The Site Plan Review Council (SPRC) rules of procedures are insufficient to ensure fair and lawful decisions per 80.60.080B.  The SPRC does not keep minutes of its decision meetings.  The SPRC consists in many cases of the same line staff charged with reviewing a proposal; there is no second look, oversight, or opportunity to verify.)
Require the SPRC to include agencies in decision meetings where their recommendations will affect the outcome.  E.g., include Intercity Transit in SPRC meetings where the decision will affect the use of buses or the location of bus stops.

III.  Development Review Process
Rewrite OMC 15.20.060 “Concurrency” to distinguish between the concurrency test designed to determine whether a level of service will be affected by a development; and elements of a traffic impact analysis designed to test compliance with specific Engineering Design & Development Standards (EDDS); to evaluate safety issues for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users in the immediate vicinity of the project; and to determine whether the traffic impacts of a development are consistent with the City’s documented transportation goals.  Clarify that traffic impacts will be analyzed according to the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) guidelines for all projects contributing more than 20 average daily trips at the peak hour.  (This threshold is already in the EDDS for certain decisions.) Eliminate the blanket exemption for projects below 8000 square feet that is provided by incorporating the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) exemption into the concurrency provisions.

Rewrite the TIA Guidelines and clarify their use as the key tool for the city to evaluate impacts on transportation configurations, long and short term.
Define the Comp Plan terms “intensive” and “high-density” commercial development as contrasted with “low intensity” commercial patterns.

IV.  Training
Require that staff of the CP&D Department be able to reference provisions of the Comprehensive Plan that relates to projects they work on.  Require attendance at an annual workshop covering interface between Comp Plan and Olympia Municipal Code.  Designate go-to staff members in the CP&D Dept. who are to become experts in specific areas of the Comp Plan:
Implement a practice of CP&D staff and others involved in the permitting process to submit a memorandum listing contradictions, ambiguities, missing pieces and impediments to achieving policy goals that they encounter, subsequent to each review—as between specific provisions of the EDDS, Municipal Code and the Comprehensive Plan.

V.  Priorities
Spend less time and money on “visioning” processes that never get translated into actual development decisions, and more time and money establishing an accountable, timely, and transparent system for amending the EDDS and the Municipal Code to implement and follow the development direction enshrined in the Comprehensive Plan.
Clarify the OMC and EDDS by replacing language requiring “consistency” with the Comprehensive Plan with “compliance.”  The Hearing Examiner argued that in cases where zoning and other regulations state that a development must “comply” with or “meet” a Comprehensive Plan, the development must meet requirements of both the zoning code and the plan.   If the Olympia Municipal Code simply requires that the developer’s proposal be “consistent with” the Comp Plan, and the Comp Plan abounds in undefined terms, all bets are off.  (HEX Decision in 11-0025, p. 23)

The mayor and City Council members need to develop the capacity to imagine that what citizens are telling them may be correct.  For 17 months, citizens said the staff was not enforcing the code.  The Mayor and Council for 17 months said the problem was not enforcement, but alignment of the Code (and EDDS) with the Comprehensive Plan.

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