Friday, March 4, 2011

Be Kind to Your Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors

It is a tough job, that very few of us are trained to handle.

I have ALWAYS been a voracious advocate of continuing self-education, and often, I find myself short on knowledge regarding current issues. This often results in a need to “hurriedly” expand my knowledge to enable me to identify options to resolve these issues. The result of hurried self-education sometimes, if not often, leads me to decisions and actions that may be premature and damaging to my relationships with my fellows. The same is true of County Supervisors, Planning Commissioners and local governmental staff.

Fortunately, for myself and my fellows, my premature activities are not nearly as potentially damaging as those of our elected and appointed representatives. Nonetheless, it is important to share this understanding, particularly in regard to the imposition of time constraints, in all of our activities.

Tuesday night, March 1, 2011, our Planning Commission wisely chose to slow down the process of drafting a proposed large and utility scale wind system amendment. After hearing from well over 50 public speakers from a rare overflow audience of over 130 persons, they realized that to address the issues raised with the ordinance amendment, they would be required to extend the term of the process without the imposition of a deadline for recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

As an architect, I have spent my career in land use planning and building design & planning under the weight of time requirements. I have often suffered criticism for refusing to offer premature solutions to my clients. I willingly accept and bear such criticism in exchange for the immeasurable satisfaction I experience by providing my clients with practical and emotional fulfillment of their needs and dreams.

Since the most recent public hearing of our Planning Commission, I sought advice from Dr. Michael Chandler, a widely accepted guru of Planning and Zoning Law in the southeastern US, and a teacher from whom I learned the most about fundamentals of the responsibilities of BZA members. I also consulted with an attorney with the law firm of Sands Anderson PC, Richmond Office, regarding my concern for using the Special Use Permit process for relaxing minimum design and use standards by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors This use of the Special Use Permit process avoids the “quasi-judicial” authority of the Board of Zoning Appeals, so as to grant such variances on more permissive grounds such as convenience and financial benefit.

The Special Use Permit process, when implemented and used properly, can be an extremely effective tool, allowing the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to impose even stronger conditions upon applicants than are set forth in minimum use and design standards. According to Dr. Chandler, the focus of both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors might be well directed toward establishing “well-grounded” design and use standards at the outset when establishing amendments that utilize this tool.

I found, through decisions and case study, that Planning & Zoning Law is a relatively “immature” field of legal experience. With this consideration and regardless of personal concerns, I will withdraw any outstanding or perceived request for a special meeting of the Roanoke County Board of Zoning Appeals. In my sense of commitment to the Roanoke County community, I reserve my standing to challenge any perceived threat to the citizens of Roanoke County as a BZA member and/or private citizen.

Eldon L. Karr

Member, Roanoke County Board of Zoning Appeals