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Post Falls passes emergency ordinance

Staff Writer | May 6, 2020 1:00 AM

Move bypasses public hearings before planning commission

The city of Post Falls passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday evening, giving the city the ability to treat all subdivision applications like small subdivisions, bypassing public hearings before the planning commission.

The motion passed with council members Kerri Thoreson and Joe Malloy dissenting after much debate. For 182 days, the ordinance will treat all subdivision applications as minor subdivisions, with approval being granted via administrative staff instead of the planning commission. Also during that 182-day period, the ordinance will allow the city the flexibility to hold land use public hearings before a hearing examiner in lieu of the planning commission.

Legal Services Director Warren Wilson said the city of Post Falls has an obligation to provide timely decisions to property owners looking to use their property and the ordinance will help with a backlog that has developed during COVID-19 precautions.

“At the same time the public has a right to input,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re accomplishing both those items.”

By Idaho code, public hearings are not required for subdivisions, but the city has historically used a public hearing before the planning commission as a means for comprehensive community input for large subdivisions.

The mayor had concern that the city would have enough hearing examiners to handle the influx of work.

Wilson said the applicant would pay for the cost of the hearing examiner, excluding any additional costs from being passed to the city and allowing the city to hire additional hearing examiners.

Dissatisfied parties will still have the ability to appeal decisions made by administrative staff to the planning commission and then to city council or from the hearing examiner directly to the city council.

If COVID-19 precautions ease before the 182-day period, the city council can return to the traditional hearing process.

Malloy asked why this was necessary, if the city council was effectively holding a public hearing at the time of Tuesday’s decision via zoom.

“In the surreal times we’re living in right now there has been a lot of due process stripped away from people and I think people are getting really frustrated with that.” Malloy said. “We’re trying to strip away more from people directly affected by these things.”

Malloy wanted to ensure that appropriate public notice would be given if a change in procedure did occur.

Wilson said the city has received feedback that public hearings for subdivisions may not be appropriate at all and should be akin to building permit proceedings.

“If you can meet the requirements of the code, you should be entitled to use the property as the code authorizes,” Wilson said.

Malloy said the timing for this change is unfortunate and asked that the ordinance include mailed notice of the proposed subdivision to adjacent property owners, in keeping with the traditional proceedings for large subdivisions.

Council member Alan Wolfe said he is concerned when public comment doesn’t have relevance.

“If a member of the public does not like a proposed subdivision, that’s not something the council can really consider in making their decision,” Wilson said.

Statewide, there is a push to remove public comment from subdivision hearings, because, as Wilson noted, public input is important in the zoning and annexation portion of land use decisions.