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What's wrong with new conditional use hearing rules

By Liz Cullington
Posted Monday, March 20, 2006

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Chatham County, Nc - I read the posted new hearing rules and foresee a number of problems:

1. For the rezoning hearings the rules limit speakers to 30 minutes for and 30 minutes against. This is profoundly improper since it is not even based on the percentage of people who would like to be heard either in favor, or opposed, or merely to provide the Board with information on which to make a decision.

2. For a project the size of Briar Chapel there were a large number of adjacent landowners, and considerable more with a direct interest, these people should be allowed their say on the rezoning itself, as well as on the conditional use permit, these are separate issues, and their rights shouldn't be curtailed.

3. With a 3 minute time limit this could mean as few as 10 speakers. This rule could be further abused if passed as written, by lengthening the time limit for speakers so that only 5 could speak.

4. It is not right that the Board can decide who is allowed to speak until they hear what they have to say, i.e. to put the proof onto a local resident to demonstrate what their "interest" is before they can speak.

5. I anticipate this process would take up more time than simply letting people speak.

6. It is not stated whether or not time taken up by the applicant's attorney(s) challenging the "interest" of speakers is to be considered part of the allotted hearing time. if so, no-one will get to speak.

7. It is not explained what signing up in advance to speak at a hearing means. It should be spelled out that there is to be no "secret list" that an applicant's witnesses can get on prior to the hearing meeting time.

8. With our increasingly busy and overworked county planning and enforcement staff, the county is going to end up having to spend more of our tax dollars fixing unforseen problems later because it did not collect all the relevant information it could up front FOR FREE from county citizens.

9. It is not spelled out what the impact on planning board decisions will be if the rezoning and conditional use permit hearings are held a month apart. Would the planning board have to make a decision in the interim? This could involve the rezoning of a parcel for a particular use or range of uses, or higher density, with no details of the proposed use..

10. Why does it state in the rules for the "legislative hearing" that the commissioners may only consider evidence given during the "evidentiary" hearing? The hearings are on different topics, and the evidentiary hearing could be a month later. In addition it appears that the rezoning hearing is completely meaningless and might as well not be held at all.

11. This would also appear to be illegal, for a decision on one issue to be mandated to only consider evidence on another issue, with a different hearing. This appears to be completely backwards from the law.

12. Where are the five findings? Since we apparently have not actually got rid of them. And it takes hearing from all county residents about whether those five findings are met, since aspects of those five findings go beyond the fence line to county utilities and more general impacts.

13. By cutting out anything that could be termed hearsay the county is cutting itself off from witnesses who could be asked to provide first hand information.

14. To allow the applicant's attorney to challenge speakers on the basis of "expert witness" qualifications is outrageous and absurd. Do you have to be a hydrologist qualified to testify in a civil tort claims or class action lawsuit in order to talk about muddy run off from Briar Chapel One in order to speak at a public hearing about Briar Chapel Two? To what extent would applicant's attorneys be allowed to harrass and belittle county residents -- who just want to use the only avenue to contact the Commissioners they are to be allowed under these rules?

15. Frankly Chatham County has not done enough to attract and retain many people expert in any field that could meet courtroom standards. Yet the defects of many developers' proposals in this county are often simply defects that can be discerned with anyone with elementary math skills. It is hardly fair to expect our overworked planning staff and a planning board that has to review many proposals at once to review a proposal with the same eagle eye as those who will actually be affected by a proposed development, and those are not merely the owners of the adjacent properties.

16. Why is it that persons could testify as "interested persons" if they can show that the project would "adversely" affect their property value, yet not testify if they believe that the project would increase the value of their property, which they have no desire to sell, but merely also increase their taxes and risk driving them off their land,

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