A hearing last week of the Delta County Planning Commission turned sour when a routine review of a gravel pit Specific Development application led to commission members questioning administrative procedures in the planning department.
The resulting rift exposed tensions that have been evident for some time between commission members and the planning staff over issues of planning policy and procedure.
On Monday morning, county administrator Robbie LeValley met with planning staff and the county attorney about the problems. LeValley also called a special administrative meeting with the planning commission members themselves that took place Monday evening. LeValley afterward told the DCI, "There are specific communication and process issues that I will be addressing from both the planning commission and planning staff viewpoints."
Mike Twamley, current chairman of the commission, told the DCI that "there are legitimate concerns about what went on" at the April 25 hearing. "The county looked very bad."
Three other planning commission members contacted by the DCI following the April 25 hearing had little specific to say about what went on.
The Specific Development application under review involved two 80-acre parcels near the intersection of 1200 Road and 25 Mesa Road. The property has an estimated 83 acres containing recoverable gravel deposits, according to the application. The county government itself is applicant for the gravel pit operation.
The application had been recommended for approval by the Delta Area Planning Committee and was expected to be "a no brainer" for the county planning commission, too, Twamley said. But discussions went off track.
At the planning commission members' meeting with LeValley on Monday, Twamley said that during the April 25 hearing a county planning staff member had remarked, " 'What the public says doesn't matter,' because county government is the applicant." Twamley's recollection was not disputed by other commission members present.
Twamley told the DCI there were also irregularities with hearing notice posting on the property under review. The property was not posted at all, he said, adding that planning staff claimed "full discretion" in deciding whether to post a property scheduled for a commission hearing.
Twamley recounted how, during the April 25 hearing, planning commission member Monica Wiitanen actually quoted chapter and verse from county regulations contradicting statements being made by planning staff on the posting issue. Twamley said he has requested a recording of the meeting when it becomes available in order to review statements that were made.
Planning commission member Roger Bentley said the posting issue "is only one of my concerns." He said, "Things didn't go according to the playbook. The application process in the planning department was not according to protocol."
Commission member Dick Disner told the DCI, "There was just all kinds of stuff floating around in that (April 25) hearing. There was a lot going on. Things got confusing. A lot is still up in the air." Disner confirmed that the application for the gravel pit was voted down on a split vote.
Twamley said staff's handling of the hearing resulted in planning commission members being "caught in the middle." The planning commission "has been used to create a paper trail twice now," he said, referring to the April 25 hearing and to another gravel pit application near Crawford. "It became obvious," he added.
Twamley noted that he has served on the planning commission for 12 years. "They (county commissioners) can throw us all off the commission if they decide to. But if there is a hill to die on, then this is that hill for me," Twamley said. "A lot of what happened left a bad taste in our mouths. There is lot of negative stuff going on."blog comments powered by Disqus