Planning staff make recommendations for commission rules
Washington’s Discovery forces look at procedures, motions
The Charles County Planning Commission is undergoing a process in which it will amend its current rules and procedures. The commission regularly reviews its rules, but many questions have come up after the proceedings of the proposed preliminary plan for Washington’s Discovery subdivision in Nanjemoy in which the plan was administratively deferred and multiple motions came down to tie votes.
After the site plan was approved by the commission in a subsequent meeting, questions came up about what the commission should do in the case of a tie vote, when projects are able to be administratively deferred and when projects would be subject to public comment and testimony. During last Monday’s meeting, Yolanda Hipski, a program manager with the county’s planning and growth management staff, aimed to answer them.
Planning Commission President Gilbert “Buddy” Bowling said “this is a process that has been in progress for some time.” Commissioner Nancy Schertler and Commission Vice President Joan Jones are both working on a committee with planning staff to have the “rules and procedures thoroughly looked at and adopted,” he said.
Hipski said she reviewed the planning commission’s rules and procedures, the 11th edition of Roberts Rules of Order and rules and procedures from five other counties to come up with her recommendations. The biggest discussion points for the Charles County Planning Commission were what happens when there is a tie vote, when changes can be made to an agenda and whether commissioners could allow the public to speak on a project.
In the result of a tie vote, Hipski said, the current rules and procedures are “silent” on tie votes and do not recommend any specific action. But later in the commission’s rules, it states that Robert’s Rules of Order should serve as a guide for meetings. And, according to Robert’s Rules, Hipski said any motion “must be adopted by majority vote.” Anything other than majority rejects a motion, she said.
Hipski recommended the commissioners adopt that same procedure in their own rules, clarifying that a majority is needed to affirm a motion and a tie would result in a failure.
That leads to another issue, Hipski said, about how projects are placed and continued on the planning commission’s agenda. Specifically, she said, whether projects can be placed back on an agenda administratively. The commission president and clerk prepare and distribute agendas. The commission’s current rules do not state if any administrative action is applicable to items after they are placed on the agenda.
There appears to be no process for it, Hipski said, with little flexibility to make change. Because of that, Hipski recommended the commissioners vote on each agenda with a formal vote, leaving the agenda subject to change prior to the vote with “the commissioners, staff or applicant” allowed to make revisions. After approval, it can only be amended by majority vote, she said.
Other localities have procedures allowing them to move items around or even off of an agenda until another meeting takes place, Hipski said. The current rules and procedures in Charles County do not have any specific direction regarding deferrals.
Having that flexibility is important, Commissioner Angela Sherard said.
“I would urge it,” she said. “It kind of interrupts the process if we’re not completely finished with discussion or debate on the topic.”
The third big issue for the commissioners was allowing public comment during any review of a project. As it stands, there is no public input process for administrative actions on subdivisions. But Hipski said limiting public comment on site plans can be an issue for the commissioners and citizens.
“If we limit public input for site specific projects, the planning commission and staff are not able to understand and address the specific concerns and problems of those who live near a specific proposed project,” she said.
Schertler also recommended a deferral period for any item an applicant chooses to defer. If an applicant chooses to withdraw an item in Frederick County from its planning agenda, they may not return before the council for 60 days.
Hipski recommended the commissioners permit public meetings on administrative actions and include public testimony in the order of the meetings when site plans are up for review.
Frederick County’s policy on personal appearances is different from Charles, Schertler said. Frederick County’s policy allows people to speak “on any matter before the council,” while Charles restricts personal appearances to items off of the agenda.
Commissioner Robin Barnes said he does not know if having a hard deadline for applicants is necessary. Flexibility is necessary for the rules, he said.
“To put in a hard and fast, it’s got to be 60 days or 180 days, that number seems arbitrary. I do want to ensure that we have flexibility that makes it fair for the applicant as well as it allows transparency for the public,” he said.
Commissioner Rosemin Daya said she thinks they’re excellent suggestions, but some do need “more teeth to it.”
She agreed with Barnes saying there needed to be more flexibility in the rules, but said they also want to avoid having to make too many changes to the agenda.
The commissioners will continue to work on their rules and nail them down, Bowling said. However, it will be a continuous process, he said. If the commissioners cannot find the balance they are looking for, they can revisit the rules next year.
“It’s a working document. This is new for everyone, so I think this will be a continuous process for everyone. We might not get it right the first time, but we can continue to work on it,” Bowling said.