Proposalcould streamline planning process

Published on Thu, Jun 28, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Proposal could streamline planning process

By Tara Nelson

An amendment proposed by the city of Blaine could streamline the public planning process by eliminating the need for a project’s final approval by city council.

During their last two regular meetings June 11 and 25, Blaine City Council discussed expanding the role of the city’s hearing examiner to include the review of most residential development applications of less than 25 lots and most commercial development of less than 50,000-square feet.

Under the Blaine municipal code, the planning commission is charged to make recommendations for project proposals to the council following a public review process. The current role of the hearing examiner is limited to hearing appeals of administrative decisions made by city development staff.

Blaine community development director Terry Galvin said amidst a “flurry” of major development proposals, the amendment would allow the planning commission to focus on more long-range planning and major development proposals. He added that the hearing examiner’s expertise in land-use law could also prevent future lawsuits against the city.

“We’ve been bogged down for the past couple of years and we’ve been understaffed, in addition,” he said. “By freeing up the planning commission to concentrate on legislative aspects of planning, they can play a very important role in setting policy that guides the way for development over the next 20 years.”

Some planning commissioners, however, expressed concerns that citizen grievances may not be addressed as effectively with the hearings examiner system. 

“One concern is that the hearing examiner is going to be a very imposing, isolated and intimidating character that will be less accessible to the community and therefore, less responsive,” he said.

Galvin said the city council and the planning commission, through a series of discussions, agreed to include one-year contracts with an annual joint review by the planning commission and city council to provide “checks and balances.”

A public meeting will be held this July or August to discuss the proposal in more detail, he said.