City of Meridian officials may make a host of changes to the process development applications go through. The results could slow down how long it takes a project to wind its way through the process.
While the city didn’t confirm what specific measures it is considering, it did hold a presentation in front of city council to discuss ideas last month.
Right now, neighborhood meetings in Meridian must occur a minimum of five days before a developer files its application. But that could change.
“I think it’s very important with the amount of growth that we’ve had, how do we improve this? I think that NH meetings are incredibly important,” council member Liz Strader said. “I’d like them to be more effective in terms of a buffer from when those meetings happen and when the application goes in so they can make changes.”
Caleb Hood, planning division manager for Meridian, suggested developers do more at neighborhood meetings.
“The biggest thing I’ve heard from people, is ‘can you meet with people early?,’ he said. “I don’t want to say ‘co-design it with them,’ because that’s their property, but ‘have them sell us on their project so we can work with them on what some of those concerns might be as they design their project.'”
Hood suggested that meetings could use additional structure.
“(We could) standardize that so you can’t have it at noon in Mountain Home on a Tuesday,” he said.
Earlier this month, Meridian staffers met with developer representatives. They told them the city may require meetings move to centralized locations like Meridian City Hall within set timeframes. During the presentation, the discussion invoked Boise’s policy of limiting meetings to Monday-Thursday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The city could also require applicants record meetings.
“We looked at Boise, and we looked at what they do,” Mayor Robert Simison said. “They have pretty set standards.”
City council president Treg Bernt said he thinks the current neighborhood meetings don’t work.
“It’s rare that we find a neighborhood meeting that goes well,” he said. “We just want to hold you guys accountable to what’s happened. No reason to lie, no reason to mislead. Just stick to the facts.”
“We tend to see much less negative thoughts from the public here at our meetings when the applicant has done a great job with that neighborhood meeting,” council member Jessica Perrault said. “It’s not so much that we are trying to check up on somebody, but more did they understand each other – and how can we make that happen?”
Wait for ACHD, other agencies
Another idea under consideration would require applicants to wait for public hearings until after agencies submit reports to the city on the project.
Presently, the processes can run in tandem. The city will set a planning & zoning hearing with the expectation that reports from agencies like the Ada County Highway District and school districts will come in before the meeting.
But Hood suggested the meeting not even get on the calendar until the reports are in.
“We shouldn’t as a city be acting on a project until we can ensure as a city that all services can be provided to a project. One of the things could be to wait to even schedule a hearing until we have that information. It’s slowing down to go fast,” he told the council. “It sounds a little scary. But once we have that – 28 days, we can do our noticing, and it’s going to happen that day.”
In practice, a hearing could not happen until a month after the final reports from all agencies – particularly the highway district – are submitted.
“We are considering potentially postponing any public hearings until after the final ACHD recommendation is presented,” Perrault said during an update to her fellow council members earlier this week.
Signs and noticing
While Meridian looked at Boise’s policy on neighborhood meetings – it proposed to go the opposite direction on a signage requirement.
Right now, developers must submit a picture of signage for hearings, and sign an affidavit stating they posted the sign. But Hood repeated an allegation he said he heard.
“It’s been alleged – they take the picture, then… whoops, they kick over the sign, or the sign disappears or whatever,” he told the council. “Maybe the wind blows it over because it was put up kind of shoddily.”
Historically, Boise staffers posted signs for public hearings. But after an extensive public process that involved a working group of citizens, developers, city staff and others, Boise put the process into the hands of applicants last year.
Meridian may go the other direction.
“We’re likely to get a little more compliance with that if we just standardize that and we have a company that’s on contract,” Hood said. “They know every time a sign needs to go up – where it goes, when it comes down.”
“I’m really supportive of us moving to a standardized approach to noticing,” council member Luke Cavener said. “I think there’s a benefit to the development community – that they know, they’ve paid their fee and everything else is handled.”
Public involvement process
The city says it would hold required public hearings before passing ordinances. The ideas under consideration came from city staff.
“We want to improve,” Hood said. “I have a list of things, I’ve heard, and we are ready to implement them potentially after we make sure it’s the right thing to do.”
“I feel really strongly that any process improvement not come from an outside group, but that it come from within the planning department and it be embraced really strongly internally,” Strader said.
Later in the discussion, council vice president Brad Hoaglun asked if planing staff involved developers in the idea process. Hood said no.
“I hadn’t contemplated bringing them into problem solve this. I figured we’d tell them some of the options we are considering and ask if they had a problem with that. We haven’t cast a wide net.”
Cavener suggested planning staff take the ideas back to the stakeholder group that helped the city complete its recent comprehensive plan update.
Perrault told council ideas could come to the council for consideration late this spring or summer.