The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 30, 2013

Not rare policy: Other state cities have axed site plan reviews

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — By altering the way it considers site plans, the city of Enid is joining several other large cities in Oklahoma.

City staff announced earlier this week proposals to streamline business and home development. One of those changes would remove approval of site plans from the public eye, which is not uncommon among cities in the state.

In Enid, site plans are given to the nine-member Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, which meets in a public session once each month.

After hearing a recommendation from staff, MAPC members can approve the plan or deny it. If approved, the developer is expected to begin the building permit process. If denied, the applicant can request an appeals hearing in front of the city commission.

Site plans essentially are diagrams showing broad and basic parts of a project, including utility lines and dimensions. They give the developer a chance to prove how they will follow city rules.

New rules

In a proposal introduced Tuesday, city staffers proposed taking away MAPC’s responsibility to review site plans. Instead, approval would simply rely on select staff members in several relevant departments. One side effect would be that there would be no guaranteed public hearing.

“The effort of taking it away from the planning commission was not an effort to get away from posting it. It was to accelerate the time frame,” City Manager Eric Benson said Friday when asked about the lack of public review in the policy.

The same discussion happened in Stillwater a few years ago. Paula Dennison, director of that city’s Development Services Department, said a lengthy review process wasn’t in Stillwater’s best interest.

“The development committee saw it as a red-tape type issue,” Dennison said.

Now, developers in Stillwater can expect to turn in their full project, including environmental impact analyses and permit requests, and have a decision back from staff within two weeks.

“It has worked beautifully and we like the way it functions,” Dennison said.

Stillwater isn’t the only community to have turned to a staff-only site plan review. Norman has adopted the policy, along with Lawton.

Edmond, however, still hears site designs in a public planning commission meeting. Enid staff have determined state law only requires public review of site plans in rare or special cases.

Unnecessary action

Because MAPC only meets once per month, site plans in Enid can take that long to be approved. Officials say that’s a long time to wait for an unnecessary action.

“The site plan really is to see if you adhere to established ordinances,” Benson said. “And if you do, there’s really nothing the planning commission can do other than say, ‘yes.’”

MAPC member and Ward 6 City Commission David Vanhooser agrees with Benson.

“About the third meeting I raised my hand and said, ‘Why are you bringing these site plans to us, because you really don’t need a decision?’” Vanhooser said, recalling one of his first meetings on the planning commission.

“It’s just putting a rubber stamp on it, basically. I think the city staff is more than qualified to make those decisions. That way it speeds it up tremendously.”

Benson said he plans on introducing the issue during an Enid City Commission study session next week. It could be voted on by the end of September.

“I don’t have a problem with the city staff dealing with those kinds of issues, because it’s more business-friendly,” said Vanhooser. “And, that’s the whole point.”