The first public hearing on a proposal to extend the idea that reviews of zoning and planning cases would turn out better for applicants if fewer people were involved in the decision-making didn’t go as planned Tuesday before the Polk County Commission.
Commissioners had already abolished the local Board of Adjustment and turned its function to decide on requests for variances and special exceptions to zoning and building codes to a hearing officer. Tuesday the issue was whether to turn over hearings to consider approvals of everything from cell phone towers to new subdivisions to a hearing officer instead of the county’s Planning Commission.
When the change went before the Planning Commission, that body voted 6-1 to recommend denial. Even Chair Becky Troutman, the lone dissenter, told commissioners she had questions about the proposal, but was concerned the challenge of dealing with the compatibility issue which was often at the heart of most of the appeals, remained unresolved.
Since this was the first hearing on the change, commissioners took no vote. A decision will occur Oct. 5.
Ancient Islands Group of Florida Sierra opposed the change, arguing it was unnecessary and that such decisions were better left to the collection of professionals from various backgrounds that make up the Planning Commission than a single professional hearing officer.
We also took issue with the more restrictive appeals process, which it made it harder to challenge decisions and limited commissioners’ ability to shut down bad proposals.
The root of the effort was an attempt by County Commissioner George Lindsey, a Lakeland developer, to create a review system whose outcome would be more predictable and less cumbersome for his he and his colleagues.
But other commissioners questioned the whether this was a good idea or even necessary.
Another and more cogent aspect of this discussion is that if the system were changed so decisions became more cut-and-dried—critics of Polk’s development review contend the staff reports are already heavily skewed in developers’ favor—people would be left to wonder why have public hearings at all.