IW planners look to prohibit post-public hearing remarks

Published 4:43 pm Monday, April 3, 2023

A proposed change to the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission’s bylaws would require anyone wishing to speak for or against a project do so at the scheduled public hearing or forever hold their peace.

The Board of Supervisors’ and Planning Commission’s bylaws each prohibit remarks during a meeting’s public comment period on matters scheduled for a public hearing, a rule that keeps speakers from speaking twice on the same topic in a single meeting.

The supervisors’ bylaws include an additional restriction barring public comments at future meetings on a matter that has “already been the subject of a previous public hearing” but where “no final vote has been taken.”

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According to County Attorney Bobby Jones, the provision is intended to prevent people from speaking over and over about the same topic once a public hearing on the matter has closed. Jones brought the discrepancy in the two bodies’ bylaws to the commission’s attention at the planners’ March 28 meeting after two speakers used the public comment period to lobby in favor of a proposed solar farm that had been the subject of a public hearing in February.

Commissioner Raynard Gibbs expressed support for amending the commission’s bylaws to mirror the supervisors’ language, stating it would eliminate any ambiguity between the two bodies. The commission, by consensus, agreed to consider the bylaws change.

According to Jones, the change would apply only to unsolicited comments and would not prevent the commissioners from asking a project’s developer or county staff for additional information following a hearing.

The commission’s bylaws mandate that any bylaw changes be provided in writing to each commissioner at least 30 days prior to the vote to adopt those changes. To approve the change, the vote would need to be at least a two-thirds majority of the members present.

The draft language will likely go before the Planning Commission for a first reading on April 25 and be voted on at its May 23 meeting.