City `out of line’ in project review, says P&Z member
With the city acting as owner, planner, applicant and the decision maker for its proposed affordable housing project at Seventh and Main streets, the review process is a “moot point,” a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission charged this week.What’s the point of the review process? asked P&Z member Tim Mooney after the City Council reviewed its plans for the site Tuesday.”It negates the city process,” Mooney said. “The City Council has already made up its mind and we find that out of line.”Since the city owns the West End property at Seventh and Main, it is naturally the applicant for the project. But Mooney objected to project manager Lee Novak of the housing office coming before the council this week to work out potential kinks in the project before a conceptual plan is submitted for formal review.Acting as the owner/applicant on Tuesday, the council gave a unanimous go-ahead for an 11-unit project with eight parking spaces and a small convenience store. The Housing Authority will now submit an application to begin the formal review process, with an eye toward construction next spring.The City Council is already at odds over the project with the P&Z after rejecting the commission’s call for more housing at the site instead of commercial space. The Housing Board also pushed for more housing in the project.Said Mooney, the remainder of the review process is “a moot point because City Council’s already approved it.”In response, the city attorney and council members insist that city-owned projects don’t get the kid-glove treatment in the review process. If anything, the standards might be tougher, said council members.”The City Council acts as stewards of city property. They’re sitting here as owners, not as an approving body,” said City Attorney John Worcester. “I don’t know how they could avoid wearing the two hats, but I resent the criticism that city projects get special treatment because that’s simply not the case.””I feel city projects are held to a higher standard and put under greater scrutiny because the city is the owner,” said Mayor Rachel Richards.Councilman Jim Markalunas added that since the public expects more from city projects, a double standard would be hard to implement. But if that should happen, Worcester noted that “the staff would point it out or the P&Z would point it out or someone would file a lawsuit.”
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