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Mayor responds to criticism

Jon Stavney

Regarding the story entitled “Shopping complex clears hurdle in Eagle,” I offer perspective within the context of the meeting.

In response to one citizen’s persistent testimony, I clarified that the Planning and Zoning Commission holds their own hearings and makes recommendations on land-use files. Legally, the Town Board cannot attend their hearings. The commission communicates to the board only through the motions they make, and their findings. The town attorney confirmed this.

Regarding the “dereliction of duty” comment directed at the commission, which I stated, perhaps hastily and certainly with heat, I provide this context: I recall many a minor lot subdivisions receiving 10 to 20 comments by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which provided the basis for discussion at the Town Board meeting.

The Eagle River Station file contained exactly five comments from the commission.

Regarding the emergency ordinance, the procedural language needed “housekeeping” because it was (embarrassingly) contrary to the operational rules that had been used for a decade. Furthermore, it was contrary to democratic and constitutional intent that appointed officials on a planning and zoning commission, would hold sway over a board elected by the citizens.

It was suggested that the Town Board was changing the rules simply because it did not like the commission’s denial. What was objectionable about the commission’s decision, was not the two denials; but that in twice hearing the concept plan on Eagle River Station, they had so few comments. It seems wrong, whether one approves or disapproves of such a major application, to have so little to say on the record.

A denial at this stage effectively states to the developer, “we don’t want to hear any more about this project, go away.” An approval at the concept plan stage effectively states, “we are interested in hearing more about the plan, now get to work to flesh out the details and come back.” The concept plan establishes the parameters, and bestows no development rights.

Without the emergency ordinance amendment, the Town Board had two choices with the Eagle River Station file: to confirm or deny the commission’s denial. The file could not move on.

The packed room of citizens attended to give testimony on a “live” file, and not to go home (again) due to a procedural glitch. This was the second time that staff had to correct their own significant procedural misstep regarding this file. Thus the need for the emergency ordinance.

It is unfortunate that it took 10 years for this issue to come to light, and that the vote happened in that context.

Admittedly, by suggesting that (if the commission) doesn’t want to carry out its duty with regard to significant land use files that there was “a third option,” which is to disband the commission, I was over the top. This is not an option currently being considered.

The Town Board chose to make the ordinance effective immediately, to maintain the integrity of the upcoming hearing and future files. The commission had unanimously approved these very same amendments.

Staff and the applicant have spent close to a year earnestly negotiating refinements and improvements to this file. It has been an exhaustive and dynamic process by the town staff behind the scenes to get to this point. At the very least, I believe the commission’s perfunctory vote was rude.

I respect the time involved by citizens, by staff, by the applicant, and by members of each board in the decision-making process. It is our social and legal responsibility as board members that we give each file the hearing it requires and deserves.

I stated in my closing comments that when the preliminary plan is submitted later in the year, there will be a second chance with a project file that will have a great deal more “meat on the bone.”

I look forward to a detailed analysis from the commission on a more advanced version of the Eagle River Station plan. Indeed, we all should.

Jon Stavney is Eagle’s mayor.


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