Our view: Council should focus on planning transparency | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Council should focus on planning transparency

We believe there's always opportunity to streamline government processes, but in the case of giving the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission more authority on planning decisions, we'd ask Steamboat Springs City Council to proceed cautiously.

As we've witnessed with the recent Pine Grove Road hotel decision and approval of the 1125 Lincoln Avenue project in 2017, which was ultimately overturned in court, these development projects are of high interest to local citizens and need to be handled as openly and transparently as possible, giving community members every opportunity to have their voices heard.

Fundamentally, we don't like the idea of transferring decision-making power and accountability from an elected body to an appointed body. City Council is answerable to the public through the election process, and moving certain decisions to Planning Commission appears, on the surface, to be restricting citizen access rather than expanding it.

At a glance

At issue: Steamboat Springs City Council is considering giving the Planning Commission authority to make certain planning decisions.

Our View: Council should hit the brakes and work on ensuring the decision making is as open, transparent and accountable as possible before transferring any power to an appointed commission.

Editorial Board
• Logan Molen, publisher
• Lisa Schlichtman, editor
• Robin Stone, community representative
• Steve Hofman, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@
SteamboatPilot.com
.

Before any action is taken, the city first needs to focus on improving public outreach and strengthening public notice procedures to ensure citizens are more aware of the applications coming up for consideration. Citizens also seem more inclined to offer public comment at council meetings, and so, the city would need to educate the public on how the Planning Commission functions and how citizens could have a voice in the process at that level.

Council member Sonja Macys suggested that if Planning Commission members are granted more authority, there needs to be increased transparency in the appointment process, and we agree.

Currently, the council interviews potential candidates before making appointments to Planning Commission, but as Macys noted, the public rarely attends the interview sessions. She and other council members indicated they would be open to holding the interviews in a more public meeting space to provide an opportunity for citizen scrutiny of the process, which we think would be a good move.

A clear path for removing someone from the commission must also be established, and we'd like to see adoption of a common sense conflict of interest policy to increase public trust in the decisions being made by the commissioners, who would no longer just be making recommendations to council. There also should be some consideration given to imposing term or year limits for commission members.

We appreciate the expertise of the city planning staff and the work they do to guide development in the city, but at this point in time, we don't think more decision-making authority should be transferred from the council to the Planning Commission until more work is done to ensure the public understands clearly how to engage proactively and effectively in the planning process before final decisions are made.

The council is slated to revisit this issue at its March 19 meeting, so if citizens have an opinion on whether or not Planning Commission's authority to approve planning applications should be expanded, now's the time to make your voices heard.

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