town hall

The Town of Fountain Hills is moving forward with a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment that would provide a citizen participation requirement for development projects that require a zoning change or Special Use Permit (SUP).

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission discussed the proposal at their April 12 regular session and generally liked the plan, however, they voted to continue consideration of a recommendation to the council, asking staff to include additional criteria.

Commission Vice Chairman Peter Gray, overseeing the meeting in the absence of Chairman Erik Hansen, made the motion to continue the item until the commission’s May meeting. His motion included asking staff to add to the ordinance requirements for a short, comprehensive list of items neighbors are asking to have addressed, a comprehensive checklist of the items to be addressed as development proceeds and a provision to have a staff member present, or “eyes on” any discussions developers have with neighbors. The commission also wants a “virtual meeting” option for the public discussion to allow absentee owners to participate.

Gray said he welcomed the proposal based on backlash from a couple of recent project proposals that have been before the town.

The ordinance would apply to citizens living on or having property within 300 feet of a proposed project. This is the existing criteria for neighbors to be notified in zoning cases. The rules also provide that if any property that is part of a homeowners’ association lies within the 300-foot parameter, the HOA is also notified.

Resident Larry Meyers spoke to the commission, stating he believes the public participation requirement is a great idea.

“It is a day late and a dollar short,” Meyers said. He was working with citizens who raised concerns related to the Fountain Hills Medical Center about the facility design and its impact on nearby residences.

“There were promises made but never fulfilled,” Meyers said. “We don’t need to allow a good project to be made bad.”

The proposed ordinance applies in situations where the development process requires a public hearing based on a request for a zoning change or special use permit.

“The surrounding property owners have a stake in the existing neighborhood and will be most impacted by the proposed changes and development,” Development Services Director John Wesley states in his staff report.

Wesley said early in the process it is easier to address concerns of neighbors with possible changes to layout or design.

The public participation would be part of the application process for a zoning amendment or SUP.

“Often, by the time an application gets to the public hearing stage, it is very difficult to make impactful changes or modifications to a proposal,” Wesley said. “Once either of these actions (rezoning or SUP approval) is finalized there are generally no other opportunities for citizens to impact the design or development process.”

“I love this idea,” Commissioner Susan Dempster said. “It is a great opportunity to provide feedback early on.”

The public participation process is fairly common in municipalities, according to Wesley.

The vote to continue the discussion was 5-1, with Commissioner Jessie Brunswig dissenting.