A proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment that would require developers to implement a “citizen participation” process when requesting a zoning amendment or special use permit received the unanimous endorsement of the Planning and Zoning Commission last week and apparently has significant popular support among the public.

Commission members expressed some concern that the process may cause some public confusion.

Commissioner Jessie Brunswig said she believes it should be clear that this is different from the prescribed public hearing and approval processes, and she also wondered about accountability.

Commissioner Dan Kovacevic said he supports the measure, saying it is good business for developers to get their projects out in front of the public. He did request some changes in language related to the word “continuous” in the ordinance.

Commissioner Rod Watts, Jr. questioned whether there should be more specific staff oversight of the process.

The ordinance does not require staff participation but indicates it is an option for someone to be present. Also, either the developer or the public interests may request staff be present.

Currently, the ordinance for notification requires people living within 300 feet of property where the zoning action is being requested be notified by mail of the proposed plans. The property is also posted, and a public notice published in the newspaper. This ordinance amendment would not change that.

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

The proposed ordinance includes provisions to notify property owners and HOA which have a portion of their property lying within the 300-foot radius of the project site. Commission members did ask that the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Committee be notified of such projects.

Ted Blank, a board member for the Dark Sky Committee, told the commission that the dark sky regulations are easily overlooked by designers early in the process. He said by the time they are made aware of regulations, they may have already ordered outside lighting fixtures that may not comply with the regulations.

“An opportunity for us to review would be beneficial to both citizens and the developer,” Blank said.

In other public comment, Larry Meyers, who has been active in public oversight of projects such as the Fountain Hills Medical Center and the challenge of the Daybreak project, said he likes the proposed ordinance.

Development Services Executive Assistant Paula Woodward read to the commission a dozen comments staff received by email. All of those supported the proposal.

The ordinance allows for virtual access to meetings but does not require it.

As a plan moves through the rezoning or SUP process, the layout and design of the buildings on the property take shape. It is early in the process when it is easiest to make changes in the plan.

“Therefore, it is important and beneficial to receive input and feedback as early as possible,” Wesley said. “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 notes that many cities and towns now include in their zoning ordinance a requirement for the applicant in land use cases to include citizen participation in the development process. This differs from the public hearing process, as it is generally informal discussion between the developer and interested citizens.

“These citizen participation requirements mandate that the applicant take steps prior to the public hearing to notify surrounding property owners about their proposed development and give them the opportunity to provide input,” Wesley said.

The motion to recommend approval included proposed changes presented by commissioners.

The council is to consider the ordinance at its session on Tuesday, Aug. 17.