New planning position proposed

Hearing examiner's job would be based on objectivity

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— In an effort to increase the objectivity of a sometimes confusing and unwieldy development review process, the city is now looking at employing a "hearing examiner" and "zoning administrator" to help it judge whether development permits fit the code.
This week the City Council reviewed a proposal from staff to implement a development review system in the new Community Development Code that would allow a hearing examiner and zoning administrator to make many of the decisions the Planning Commission and City Council currently make.
That doesn't mean that the process would circumvent the council entirely.
All permits would be placed on the consent calendar and could be pulled up to be discussed in a full hearing. But with the potential for a much more predictable code, many of the decisions that will be made will be based strictly on the language in the code and could be reviewed by someone without the Planning Commission and City Council's institutional knowledge.
The code would be more predictable because it allows for more uses-by-right rather than conditional uses.
Uses-by-right are immutable rights to use the land in a certain way, while conditional uses may be available for the site, but must first be reviewed in a series of public hearings to determine if they are appropriate. Arguments over the ability of a developer to apply a conditional use on his property can make the development review process rely heavily on the discretion of individuals a situation that occurred frequently under the old code.
"The idea is that the code is so specific that there's no interpretation needed," said City Councilman Ken Brenner.
Council President Kevin Bennett added that the hearing examiner process would likely be less prone to conflicts of interest, which can be a problem in a small town like Steamboat Springs.
The hearing examiner and zoning administrator would be able to review each application on its compliance with the code first and foremost and would still be open to comments from the public.
Council asserted that the adjacent property owners should get two notices about the application if the hearing examiner system were to be implemented.
The hearing examiner would be a trained professional, possibly a land-use attorney, who would review the applications for their compliance with the code, the community plan and any other applicable plans.
The zoning administrator would essentially replace the Board of Adjustments, which deals with issues like adding decks and making other variations on single-family homes and other already-existing structures.
The Planning Commission, then, would be able to look toward more long-range planning issues such as code, ordinance and master plan development.

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