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Single panel to consider all planning, zoning issues

By Doug Snover

June 10, 2006

Tempe is doing away with its traditional Planning and Zoning Commission, Design Review Board and Redevelopment Review Commission, consolidating the three independent panels into a single Development Review Commission that will have full authority to review proposed developments from big issues like density and building heights to smaller stuff like paint schemes and business signs.

Charles Huellmantel, the first chairman of the new Development Review Commission, hopes the unified review process will appeal to developers and make it easier for residents to keep track of proposals that might affect their neighborhoods.

The commission officially takes over on June 14, although the Planning Commission, Design Review Board and Redevelopment Review Commission each will be allowed to finish their respective analysis of projects that already have started the review process.

Until now, the Planning Commission might review a developer’s proposal for density and building heights, while the Design Review Board would look at the appearance issues such as the color of a particular building. For the past several years, the Redevelopment Review Commission has had sole authority to review projects in two downtown areas.

In the future, the new Development Review Commission will be the only board to review projects and make recommendations to the City Council on every aspect of a developer’s proposal.

“It’s one hearing,” Huellmantel said. “The mayor and council have spoken a great deal on that they didn’t want citizens to have to come out many times to see what happened to a project. The council wanted citizens to have one opportunity to participate in the process … an opportunity for citizens to come out and hear everything (about a proposal) in one stop.”

It might be a new board, but it will have many familiar faces.

Huellmantel, for example, is a veteran of both the Tempe Planning Commission and Redevelopment Review Commission.

And while the new commission will have citywide authority, it will be well represented with south Tempe residents.

Tom Oteri, for example, lives in south Tempe and was an alternate member of the Redevelopment Review Commission. Other Kyrene Corridor-area members include Stanley Nicpon, Vanessa MacDonald and Mike DeDomenico.

One thing that is atypical about the new commission is that it will have three “alternates” in addition to its regular seven members.

Huellmantel said the idea is to have a full seven-member board review all projects even when a regular member is absent.

Another “safeguard” to ensure public participation is a requirement by Tempe that developers meet with affected neighborhoods before presenting their case to the Development Review Board, Huellmantel said.

Huellmantel, an attorney who represents developers, said he is not sure how many other cities actually require developers to hold neighborhood meetings on their projects before the public hearings are held.

“We didn’t look as much to what other cities have done as to what makes sense for us,” he said of the decision to consolidate the public review process into a single commission.

Giving the Redevelopment Review Commission full responsibility to review projects in the downtown area helped Tempe work out the bugs before consolidating public review citywide, he noted.

In recommending the city consolidate its review process, the Tempe planning staff concluded “the new commission would create a clear and concise path for the development review process.”

“Customers and residents will be able to clearly determine the direction for development or redevelopment in Tempe,” the staff report suggested.

“A consolidated commission assists in citizen involvement by providing a greater awareness for consistency and dependability, and an opportunity for public input on all items,” the staff noted.

Citizens will have a greater voice than ever in reviewing the design of new projects, the planning staff noted.

Huellmantel added the word “consistency” to the mix, saying that having a single board responsible for reviewing projects from top to bottom will allow Tempe to be consistent in its public hearing process.


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