Monday, February 08, 2010

North Canton Variance Request Mired in Politics & Mistakes

Prepared Comments Made to
February 8, 2010

Democracy in America gives citizens a voice in how they wish to be governed. The American electoral process allows for citizens to choose who will govern them. There are governmental processes that allow citizens a voice in the process of government. We all enjoy and revere the democratic form of government and the protections it affords each and every one of us. Democracy at all levels of our government is what we have all come to expect. Nothing less is acceptable.

At a recent meeting of the North Canton Zoning Board of Appeals citizens were not afforded the opportunity to speak. In addition, actions by a city council member raise questions in my mind as to whether the process of government is being misused to benefit the few at the expense of the public at large.

On January 26, 2010, there was a meeting of the North Canton Zoning Board of Appeals. The meeting was scheduled to hear an application from McKinley Development Leasing Company, Ltd. for a variance from existing zoning law requiring a minimum lot width of 150 feet for a commercial lot in Washington Square to allow for the construction of a Sonic drive-through restaurant.

As is the course for public decisions made by government bodies, public comments, favoring and opposing the proposal are allowed before a vote is taken.

The North Canton Board of Zoning Appeals did not allow any public comment before the board voted on the application for a variance.

Beth Borda, the spokesperson for McKinley Development spoke on behalf of the variance. She was given ample time to present her reasons why the zoning board should approve the variance. Before Ms. Borda had time to return to her seat, Chris Feller made a motion, seconded by Sam Bacon, to vote on the variance request.

Before I could raise my hand and ask when citizen comment would be allowed on the merits of the variance, voting by the zoning board was complete. The board approved the requested variance 3-1.

There were several individuals who attended the meeting who had hoped to speak regarding the requested variance. There were no other items on the agenda.

The Vice Chairman of the zoning board, Brian Mihalcin, chaired the meeting in place of Chairman William Cline, who was absent. Only after the vote had been taken and the zoning board was about to adjourn were citizens allowed to speak to the merits of the requested variance.

What happened to our democratic process in this instance? Was there nobody present who knew how to conduct a proper meeting?

Who has oversight of the North Canton Zoning Board of Appeals?

Are board members given any kind of training on how they are to function in their roles when they are appointed to serve on these boards?

Does the conduct of the North Canton Zoning Board of Appeals raise any concerns for any members of city council? I certainly hope so!

As I raised my hand in utter amazement at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to question what was happening before me, Councilmember Snyder who also was in attendance leaped to his feet and shouted from the audience, “You cannot revote.”

This was not very impressive public conduct for a sitting councilmember. It also raises questions in my mind as whether or not Mr. Snyder had used his influence on the deliberative process of the Zoning Board.

Councilmember Snyder’s conduct on this variance request is further heightened by the existence of a letter that he wrote nearly two weeks before the North Canton Zoning Board of Appeals were to meet to discuss the variance.

The letter, dated January 14, 2010, from Council Vice President Jon Snyder to Council President Daryl Revoldt, states “McKinley Development cannot get relief from the Zoning Board of Appeals; hence the recommendation to amend Zoning Ordinance No. 50-03, specifically Section 1137.04 LOT AND DENSITY REQUIREMENTS.”

The North Canton Zoning Board of Appeals was not scheduled to meet to discuss the requested variance until January 26, 2010. How is it that on January 14, 2010, Mr. Snyder could unequivocally state in writing “McKinley Development cannot get relief from the Zoning Board of Appeals.”

That letter from Mr. Snyder is blatantly false and upon that falsehood, Mr. Snyder asked Mr. Revoldt, Chair of the Ordinance, Rules & Claims Committee, to begin the legislative process to change the city’s zoning code.

I am stunned that the legislative process can be initiated based on false and misleading information.

Subsequent to the favorable vote by the zoning board on January 26th, City Council, at its’ February 1st meeting, under the Ordinance, Rules & Claims Committee, withdrew a request made to the Planning Commission on January 19th to rewrite the zoning requirements regarding Lot and Density Requirements under Section 1134.07 of the city’s zoning code.

I ask that the minutes of the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting of January 26, 2010, be transcribed verbatim to determine without a doubt in what manner the meeting was conducted. It was a very short meeting and would not entail a great deal of effort or expense.

Furthermore, I ask that a study be conducted by the city law director to determine the extent of the manipulation and undue influence that was exerted that resulted in the variance approval.

It is one thing to assist a constituent in navigating the process of government. It is a horse of a different color to lobby aggressively and abuse the process of government that citizens depend on.

I hope this council will care enough to learn what went wrong in the course of this application for a variance and how the process was manipulated and how council itself was drawn into playing along. You should learn the facts from beginning to end and not brush these abuses of the process of government aside.

We are supposed to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I just hope those are not idle words etched in stone at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton