Planning & Zoning: A Six-Hour Process Gone Awry

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Well over a hundred people showed up to last week’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to speak out against the rezoning of Arrowhead Village for the Landmark student housing project.  The crowd was so large that people began to line up along all walls of the building.

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Unfortunately, the democratic process failed many of these Flagstaff citizens who had taken time out of a weekday / work night to participate.

“A 4 1/2 Hour Filibuster”

While scheduled to begin at 4:00, the commissioners did not even convene until a half hour later – when they immediately went into executive session.  The meeting did not actually begin until about an hour after it’s scheduled start.  At that time, there was a presentation by city zoning staff concerning details of the rezoning request that lasted another considerable length of time.  This was followed by another half-hour video presentation by Landmark on relocation assistance for Arrowhead Village residents.  Then Landmark’s traffic consulting firm also gave a presentation, only partially related to traffic.  After this, Landmark’s lawyer got up and regaled those assembled with the story of his own educational background, the economic downturn of 2007 and trends in student housing.

It was almost 5 hours before public comment even started, forcing many of those who had shown up to speak about their concerns to leave.  Those whose schedules, children and patience allowed them to stay were able to contribute and listen to almost 2 more hours of public comment against the development on topics ranging from traffic, relocation, conflicts with Flagstaff’s Regional Plan, affordable housing and others.

After having been granted this much of the public’s time already, Landmark’s lawyer was then invited to give a “rebuttal” to the public comments, to which no response was allowed by the public.

After over 6 hours, the commission ruled to postpone the vote to another night, when public comment would not be accepted.

Translation Services

It was most unfortunate that despite an approved request for translation services at the Planning and Zoning meeting, there was a failure to provide the service by the city. This not only only slowed down the meeting dramatically, but made residents feel as though they were not being valued in the decision-making process. (Again.) After the Spanish broadcasting (through headsets) at the meeting failed, a nonprofit organization ended up driving across town to provide their own headphone devices for official city use.

This has been a long-standing issue in this story. A large portion of the residents of Arrowhead Village speak Spanish as their primary language. One of the first problems they encountered with Landmark was the failure of the company to provide translation at their first and second open meetings. This left many of the people who were most directly affected by the project unable to understand what was being said or communicate effectively in return.

This is why an official request was made for translation at the Planning and Zoning meeting. Unfortunately, the equipment failed. This is not the fault of any member of the P&Z commission, but it speaks ill of how seriously the need for inclusion was taken for this process.

“Compatibility With Community”

The rezoning of the Arrowhead Village homes to a Highway Commercial designation is – like all rezoning – discretionary.  This means that there is no hard and fast law determining whether any given rezoning will be granted.  Rather, there is a collection of standards which guide the process.  Those who spoke out against Landmark’s development addressed the way that many of those standards would be violated by Landmark’s student housing development.  One standard that must be considered, according to the Planning and Zoning code, is compatibility with the community.  It is for this reason and others that input from the public about projects like this are of utmost importance.  While Speak Up recognizes that there will inevitably be presentations in such meetings to bring commissioners up to speed on the primary questions surrounding any proposal, it is unacceptable for the public to be left waiting so long, or left so unable to communicate, that their voices are lost and their confidence in the democratic process is diminished.

 

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