How and when community organizations find out about local zoning issues, and how much they find out is changing.
Kathleen Lambert of the City Planning Commission explained changes in zoning procedures to Greater Bustleton Civic League members during their March 26 session at the American Heritage Federal Credit Union on Red Lion Road.
Jack O’Hara, the league’s president, said the new process will keep the civic group in the dark for a while about why an owner needs Zoning Board of Adjustment approval to do something on a property.
The league knows an owner has been told an OK is needed from the zoners because its officers will be informed by the Planning Commission, but they won’t be told right away why the OK is needed.
That’s like being told there’s a 50 percent off sale at a market, but not being told what exactly is being marked down, O’Hara said in a March 27 phone interview. Lambert explained the zoning appeals process works like this:
• An owner applies to the Department of Licenses and Inspections to do something on a property. An example could be the owner wants to build a large shed in a back yard.
• L&I sees the size of the shed is contrary to what city code allows in the property’s neighborhood, so it refuses to issue the permit.
• If the owner still wants the shed, he or she must apply to the ZBA for a special exception or a zoning variance.
To that point, the procedure is what it was before the new zoning code started being used in August 2012. Previously, applicants could ask for zoning board hearings. Owners could arrange to ask the support of neighborhood organizations, and the zoners would consider what local groups had to say about the owners’ proposals.
• Now, under new rules, Lambert said, the Planning Commission has seven days to tell a neighborhood group — defined as a Recognized Community Organization — that the applicant wants a variance. This is where O’Hara said the neighborhood group is not yet told why the variance is needed.
• The RCO has 45 days to set up a meeting with the applicant.
• The applicant must inform — usually by fliers — neighbors within 200 feet of the property in question about the meeting and the zoning application.
“When do I find out what the variance is about?” O’Hara asked again at the March 27 session. “I don’t know what they’re asking for. … I don’t know what the issue is.”
During a March 27 phone interview, O’Hara said he was informed a zoning matter will come before the league during its April 23 meeting that will be the first under these new rules.
“I can’t find details on this zoning issue,” he said, which is a problem for him as he tries to inform league members, who are drawn from the entire 19115 ZIP code.
• O’Hara said that the civic group is free to let many more people know about the meeting, where they will find out what the applicant wants to do.
• The group’s members will tell the zoners if they support or oppose the applicant, who can’t set up a zoning hearing until he has gone before the RCO.
During the March 26 meeting, Lambert, who is new to her job, said she’s hoping any difficulties can be ironed out in six months. ••