How long should a government process take, and what can be done to speed it up? Those are questions Milton's Town Council and Planning & Zoning Commission are debating.
Some council members are in favor of taking over decisions from the planning commission in order to speed up the approval process and make Milton more business friendly. However, town planners say that would eliminate important checks and balances.
Vice Mayor John Booros said he's attended planning and zoning meetings where the commission did not have all of the information at the ready and asked an applicant to come back to next month's meeting. The prolonged process gives the town a reputation for not being business friendly, he said.
“One month leads to another month which leads to another month.”
Planning commission member Barry Goodinson said the issue isn't with his board; it's with town hall.
“Things have slowed down when we come together, and there's not information that is prepared in advance and we don't have answers to questions,” he said. “We can't exercise our responsibilities and leave questions unanswered. We just are not going to do that.”
He said the commission would be willing to meeting more often but wants to ensure the town can fulfill Freedom of Information Act requirements for meeting notice.
Goodinson said the perceived problems are not with his commission and, he said, a proposed ordinance taking decisions away from the commission will only hurt the town in the future. Recently, an ordinance was introduced to town council that could take away the commission's power to offer a recommendation on proposed amendments to the zoning code. The proposal says the town council may refer the amendment to the commission, but it is not required.
“You give total power to the council,” said commission member Virginia Weeks. “That might be fine with this council because you all like each other, but if you get an antagonistic council or you get a council that is very politically driven or has an agenda, then how do you protect the town?”
Goodinson agreed, saying the commission's input is important.
“I have never had an idea that was not improved by other people's input,” he said. “I really appreciate it when I come up with this part of an idea and people come in and change it and fine tune it.”
The commission members at the Nov. 18 meeting also asked for better communication between planning and zoning and town council. Goodinson said an open line between the commission and council could solve the issues.
“We have to have a shared vision that people buy into and everyone can recite and is part of our DNA on a daily basis as we do our work,” he said. “But [council] has to have the confidence that when you punt a project over to us that we've got a shared vision, we're working on your behalf and in concert with you and have the expertise here to do our job.”
Mayor Marion Jones said she plans to offer training sessions for the town's largest voting boards in early 2014, in hopes they will get on the same page. She said she's happy the planning commission expressed their concerns.
“I can't remember a time when town council and a large voting board have gotten together and met,” she said. “I think that in itself is a start. I appreciate a meeting being called to do so. I don't know that we're resolving anything here, but communication is certainly a start.”