Baxter City Council considers future of 2 commissions
BAXTER — With changing roles, Baxter City Council members considered whether two city commissions should continue or change.
Josh Doty, community development director, provided an overview during a Tuesday, March 17, workshop session looking at options to streamline the process for development as two commissions now meet less frequently or just a few times a year.
A change in 2013 meant applicants with plans to build could receive administrative approval if they met standards for the city’s architectural ordinance, meaning they wouldn’t have to go before the commission. “That change has been extremely successful from the perspective of streamlining the process for applicants, while still upholding the city’s architectural standards,” Doty said.
In the aftermath, Doty said the architectural review commission meetings are now down to a handful of times a year and at a random schedule.
“And so it raises some questions, obviously, to serve on the Architectural Review Commission or any commission, you know, you're asking folks to commit time for a purpose,” Doty said, noting so few meetings make recruitment a challenge.
Options set before the council included changing the architectural review ordinance to have the occasional review that isn’t handled administratively done by the city council or have it go to the planning commission and then the council. Other options included sending more applicants directly to the review commission or leaving the current situation in place with the commission making recommendations to the council.
The Baxter Long Range Planning Commission, first set up in 2013, was in the same boat.
Doty reported the long range commission worked with the city’s comprehensive plan update and reviewed all applicants in relation to the comp plan, which serves as a guide for the city’s development. A busy commission in the past, after the work on the comp plan and in the years immediately after it was adopted, the commission meets less frequently. Doty said the commission could be tasked with working specifically on the comp plan, which is typically updated every 10 years. Or the city could move that duty to the planning commission to serve as the recommending body to the council.
Doty noted a change could mean cutting meeting requirements for applicants in half and streamlining the process to be more development friendly and more efficient for staff time.
Mayor Darrel Olson noted when Walmart was constructing its new store the city had a lot of things thrown at it in terms of architectural standards and the commission research came up with what people see today. Over a period of time, Olson said, the commission refined the ordinance and fine-tuned it until it could be handled administratively.
“In my mind anyway, the concept always was to maybe work their way out of the job, so to speak,” Olson said, noting the commission could then be called in when needed.
Council member Mark Cross, an active participant in the commission, agreed with Olson. Cross said materials and use of materials change and having professionals give advice on what works and what doesn’t is still a valid reason to have the commission. Holman said it’s been a great evolution from the beginning to now and things can continue to be managed administratively and be called together when it is time to overhaul the ordinance. Holman said the same can be said for the long range planning commission.
Regular meetings aren’t needed but the flexibility to call the professionals is a plus, but Holman supported shifting the commission definition to a task force.
Olson said he didn’t think the architectural review commission should be disbanded and is a necessary group from time to time.
Doty said the long range planning commission has served the comp plan really well but it could be switched to the planning commission or a task force could be assembled.
Cross said he liked bringing representatives from a cross-section of commissions together for the comp plan work.
“It really forces each commission to be a part of the plan,” Cross said, adding there was a great mix of people on the 2015 plan.
Holman said he wouldn’t be opposed to moving the work to the planning commission as overseers of the comp plan and then bringing more people into the comp plan process.
“I think the goal is to have more people in the comp plan process than just the commissioners,” Holman said. “We want public. We want, you know, different sectors of the community represented.”
If the current model is kept, Holman suggested shifting to two meetings per year.
Olson said in the past the planning commission was so busy it was meeting until late at night twice a month just to react to what was happening, and the long range commission — a rarity among cities — was able to look ahead. Olson said it has changed and it isn’t as necessary as it was.
Council member Connie Lyscio said she was in favor of getting more participation. Council member Zach Tabatt said whatever was done to streamline the process was a priority. Holman said he was hearing consensus for streamlining.
The council took no action at the workshop.
Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.