Letter to Robert Lawrence and the Frederick County Planning Commission

I’d like to draw your attention to this email that I received this morning. As has been growing increasingly typical, I no longer receive this email a week in advance. Rather, I receive it on the Friday prior to the Wednesday Planning Commission hearing. I have even received such emails as late as the Monday prior to a Wednesday hearing.

Like many other Frederick County citizens that wish to take an active role in a hearing, I rely on these emails. It tells us what is on the agenda and provides the documents that we rely upon to learn about the agenda topics, so that we can prepare ourselves properly. Since the Planning Commission does NOT have a forward-looking calendar on the County website, these emails are our only way of knowing what is happening and it is the ONLY source for documentation for concerned citizens. I would note, that the agenda page on your website is also not updated with this information until the same date of the emailing.

As you well know, I have been an active participant in quite a few of your hearings over the last two years now. I like to be prepared. In fact, I consider it both my responsibility and duty to speak factually and from a sound basis with respect to the proposed development, the zoning ordinance, and the Comprehensive Plan. This takes time and it takes work. On top of all that – I work for a living and have a family. It is very challenging to find the time to prepare for a hearing, particularly for those hearings where I plan to submit formal written testimony. Upon receiving emails like this one, it will take me several evenings and a lot of weekend time to prepare my testimony. Typically I don’t get it done until a day or two prior to the hearing, and sometimes later.

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That brings me to the change in procedures that you recently adopted. You are now requiring that written testimony be provided 72 hours in advance of the hearing, if it is to be considered in your deliberations. I understand your motivation for such a request. After all, you need time to consider sometimes lengthy testimony before rendering your judgement. While I recognize that motivation and reasoning, I believe what you have enacted is wrong.

Let’s start with the simple fact that Planning Commission hearings are held on Wednesdays. That means that you are now requiring written submission no later than Sunday. That simply doesn’t make sense. Emails received on Sundays will likely be ignored. Postal mail submissions will effectively be forced to be received by Friday or Saturday, since a Monday delivery would now be in violation of your procedure. Thus, those without email access would need to postmark their submissions by Friday, Thursday, or perhaps even Wednesday to ensure an on-time delivery.

But wait, how could we prepare written testimony for postal mail delivery that early, when we typically don’t even get the agenda email until that same Friday?! You are asking us to send in our written testimony potentially before we even have the agenda! You are demanding an unrealistic and unreasonable precondition on those concerned residents of Frederick County who wish to exercise their rights as citizens to participate in your proceedings, and to make their opinions heard. The effect of such condition is to limit, if not preclude, the participation of Frederick County’s citizens in the proceedings of the Planning Commission. I find this to be both unconscionable and, potentially, actionable. Let that sink in for a moment.

As I said, I understand the motivation for doing something like this. However, I think you have gone about it the wrong way. Consider this alternative, for example. It has actually always bothered me that you would hold a hearing, listen to hours of testimony, and then render a decision. I think it would be far more respectful of the public’s time and participation to actually spend some time contemplating their testimony. You should hear things that require you to go away and consider.

Give Staff time to consider the testimony and, perhaps, prepare some alternative analyses. Instead, it appears again and again, that our words go unheard. True, there will be times when it feels that our message has resonated but typically, that only leads to discussion about why a proposal should be approved despite the concern. Please do NOT take this as the opinion and reaction of one person. Trust me when I tell you, that there are MANY more who feel the same way. Thus, rather than the 72 hour filing deadline, you should instead institute a policy of deferring judgement at the hearings that have been contested.

In the event that you choose not to accept this recommendation, then I’m left with one more option. You must follow a policy with County Staff that is just as strict as that which you are applying to County residents. You must require that County Staff distribute the agenda and meeting documents TWO FRIDAYs prior to the hearing. I started off suggesting a full week prior to the hearing, but as I outlined above, for someone that must postmark their submission, that is simply inadequate.

Further, once that meeting notice has gone out, you should accept no modifications or additions from either Staff or Applicant. If you won’t accept late submissions from the public, I see no reason for you to do so from Staff or Applicant. Such a provision would show respect for the citizens of Frederick County by both allowing us to prepare for these hearings, and indicating that you actually care about the information that we’ll provide.

Failure to consider and accept either of these options will only reinforce the growing perception (if not reality) that the Planning Commission simply does not want to hear from the public.

I look forward to your response.

Regards,

Steve McKay
President, RALE


From: “Frederick Co MD Planning Commission” To: “McKay, Steve”
Sent: Friday, August 22, 2014 8:23:48 AM
Subject: Planning Commission Agenda for August 27 2014

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