Wording in a city of Delaware staff report sparked concerns from a commission member about the relationship between the planning department and a trade association.
The report provided a summary of an ordinance City Council approved on May 22 to amend the planning and zoning code. The main changes were to allow the “acceptance of public improvements” be handled at the staff level and clarify the minimum bonding requirements for subdivision projects.
“The Building Industry Administration (BIA) initiated a series of meetings with engineering and planning staff to bring forward issues of concern with the current process and seeking areas of improvement,” the report said, incorrectly referring to the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio.
Shade Tree Commission member Tom Wolber noticed the error.
“As I am working my way through the agenda of tomorrow’s City Council, I noticed that the BIA has been misidentified,” Wolber said in an email sent May 21 to city officials and council members.
“If I were a City Council member, I would be concerned about any and all industry-submitted proposals that ‘pertain to eliminating the City Council level of acceptance.’ Is the Planning Department in process of becoming a lobbying arm for the BIA?” he said.
Wolber provided The Gazette email correspondences between him and Councilwoman Lisa Keller, 2nd Ward, who responded to his concerns.
“I too had some concerns regarding meetings being conducted by the BIA and city staff. My concern was primarily that the BIA would attempt to exert pressure on our city staff regarding our development procedures. I requested an invite to participate and was involved in several meetings with the BIA and city staff,” Keller said.
“I discovered the BIA was making requests regarding our city’s processes. The planning department remained in staunch opposition to any change that took direction away from the city council. The BIA was instructed that procedural changes to assist with some paperwork and process concerns (to help bring clarity to the process) could be discussed but policy changes needed to be requested of council in public meetings and open to public input and participation,” Keller said.
“Through my participation in these meetings, I can assure you our planning department exhibited the highest degree of professionalism and accountability both in the way they conducted themselves and how they handled the requests of the BIA.”
Keller did not respond to a request for further comment from The Gazette, nor did Jim Hilz, the BIA’s executive director. Hilz attended a council meeting earlier this year to express concerns about the city’s tree preservation regulations. The Shade Tree Commission started to review the chapter last month.
Before the amendments were approved, council would include the acceptance of public improvements in its consent agenda, with items not normally discussed at length such as motion summaries. Originally, developers could not record a final subdivision plat and build houses without council’s acceptance at one of its two meetings each month, according to the report. It said: “The proposed revision allows for the same comprehensive and inspection review of subdivisions.”
Dave Efland, planning director, said at the May 22 meeting he couldn’t remember council having a discussion about any acceptances of public improvements.
In addition, the amendments clarify what projects were eligible for a performance bond. Efland said the original section was not clear for developers.
The amendments would allow nine types of projects eligible for the bond: final grading/seeding; final wearing course of asphalt; bike path/walk in common areas; pavement markings; landscaping; lighting; sidewalks; street lights and monument assemblies; and ramps that comply with American Disabilities Act.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.