Planners may curb public comment

Published 10:43 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

After scores of residents flooded several Isle of Wight County Planning Commission meetings to speak out against a proposed housing expansion at Benn’s Grant, the Commission is now considering restricting citizens from commenting on an issue after it has already held a formal public hearing.

“The logic behind that is, you have a public hearing for a purpose,” said County Attorney Mark Popovich, who presented the option to the Commission Tuesday, Dec. 12. “The public hearing is an opportunity for everybody who wants to speak to come out and speak on the particular issue, and that’s the night to do it.”

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The change in the citizen comments bylaws would also bar people from speaking about an issue at meetings prior to its scheduled public hearing. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Residents of Benn’s Grant voiced strong opposition to expansions during the citizen comments portion of the Commission’s meeting in September, when the developer had postponed the public hearing. Residents spoke against the housing units again in October at the rescheduled public hearing. Commissioners did not make a decision in October after the public hearing, and postponed a vote until November, where residents once again filled the citizens comments portion of the meeting with concerns about growth at Benn’s Grant.

“We listened to some of the same issues, some of the same comments,” Planning Commission Chair James Ford said of the citizen comments following a public hearing regarding the expansion. “No new information was provided.”

The potential change in the commission’s bylaws would be in line with the Board of Supervisors’ bylaws, which prohibit citizen comments on a subject prior to and following a scheduled public hearing.

Currently, the Planning Commission’s bylaws prevent citizens from commenting on a public hearing matter during the citizen comment portion of the meeting when the public hearing is to be held, but do not restrict the citizens from speaking on the matter in meetings following or preceding the public hearing.

The Planning Commission opted to wait until January to make a decision on whether to change its bylaws, but commissioners spoke favorably of the proposal, with Commissioner Don Rosie noting that the public hearing regarding Benn’s Grant was “relived” the next month.

“The gift that kept on giving,” Rosie joked.

Ford also asked that the commission consider the change.

“Not that we don’t take the citizens comments seriously, but the fact of the matter is that everything that was presented that night, we had already heard,” he said of the November meeting.

Originally a proposed 231 units, the Planning Commission approved 216 additional housing units at Benn’s Grant at its November meeting. With the commission’s blessing, the application from developers, East West Communities, will go on to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision in January.  {/mprestriction}