Thursday, June 15, 2006

Good intentions, bad ideas...

An editorial in the Flier today applauds Democrats for not rushing with their proposed changes to the zoning process. Then, there’s this:

We have long advocated reworking the way the county does its zoning, including the long-overdue move of creating a Zoning Board that does not comprise the members of the council. Having that much power in the hands of five people is a detriment to the public good.
I hear this a lot, that the county council should no longer serve as the zoning board. The main argument goes councilmen take money from developers during campaigns and then approve developer projects as the zoning board, creating a possible conflict of interest. I’m sympathetic to this argument -- there appearance of impropriety is there – but I’m not convinced that removing the zoning board role from the council will do any good. In fact, I think it could be bad. Very bad.

Where would the Zoning Board’s powers go? To the Planning Board? To another, not-yet-established body? An independent zoning officer? The one problem all of these share is that they lack public accountability. Members are not voted into office. They are appointed.

As unseemly as it may seem to have elected representatives (who get contributions from developers) make zoning decisions, leaving such decisions up to the will of a board that has no incentive – and often no desire – to listen to citizens is several orders of magnitude worse. It’s undemocratic and antithetical to an open, community-driven zoning and development process.

Unless we’re talking about replacing the Zoning Board with another elected body, which is full of pitfalls of its own, removing the County Council from this important oversight position diminishes the role citizens play as well.


Anonymous said...

"Having that much power in the hands of five people is a detriment to the public good." I wonder if the Flier is basing this argument on how well the non-elected, appointed PSC works? That's worked great lately, hasn't it?

mary smith said...

Initially, the argument that the council should not serve as the zoning board seemed to support the constituency rather than focus on maintaining good relationships with land developers. But after reading posts like this, it seems we're back to campaign finance reform. At this point in time, land developers and any other serious-money contributors have the potential to carry more votes than constituents individually. And, because these land developer/elected official relationships are so important it would be really helpful for the electorate to have a place to research private relationships, businsess relationships, and political relationships that can run very deeply throughout our government.

Evan said...


Glad to see we are on the same page on this one.