This is an apeal for the Hearing Examiner to allow the public at least 3 weeks time to study a planning packet and prepare for the public hearing.
Q: When is a Hearing a Charade
A: When only the developer has time to prepare
This is a request submitted to Dawn Sturwold, City of Bellingham Hearing Examiner, on June 21, 2002. It addresses the basic unfairness of Bellingham planning processes.
This is a request that the public hearing scheduled for next Wednesday, June 26 for SUB2001-00047, the Purple Plum plat for 32nd and Donovan streets in Happy Valley be rescheduled for at least three weeks later. This would allow citizens and neighbors the time to prepare for this hearing.
While the Notice of the Hearing is dated June 14, I did not receive my mailed copy until June 18 as it was not mailed by city planning until June 17. On June 18 I went to city planning and asked for the development packet so that I could prepare for the hearing. The planning official said there would not be a packet until Friday, June 21.
I note that the legal notice omits two vital pieces of information that citizens need.
1. It did not say anything about a packet. How can anyone comment intelligently about a plan they are not allowed to view until they walk into the hearing?
2. It did not spell out the plan process. Nothing is said whether the Hearing Examiner will make a recommendation to the council, planning dept or planning commission; whether additional hearings will be held; nor whether the Hearing Examiner will make the final decision. The public is kept in the dark on process. Usually in the past, when such criticism is given to the Planning Department, the response is that such and such is not legally required. This is a very lame excuse for lack of open public process. As public servants they are supposed to bring more to the process, not less.
I also note that in the hearing held by the Hearing Examiner on June 12 regarding a street vacation request by WWU, that a local attorney, Tom Ashton, raised repeated objections to the unfair practice of allowing Western to enter new documents into the record at the hearing - documents that we the public had been denied access to before the hearing. The Hearing Examiner decided that the hearing record would remain open for another 10 days or so to allow the public to comment on this additional documentation.
For years, I and other citizen advocates for public process, have objected to this practice at hearings - to no avail. The Hearing Examiner office is new and this criticism in mainly directed at the Planning Department and City Council who have allowed last minute documents as a matter of routine at hearings. However, I request that the Hearing Examiner make this one time exception the rule for the future - that new documents entered into the record will extend the hearing process.
Best of all - and the way it should work - is that all documents from the developer and also all recommendations and reports from the city planning department should be available for at least three weeks prior to a public hearing. This would enable the public to testify in an intelligent manner and for public process to be served. This should seem reasonable when it is considered that the proponent and planning department often spend months preparing for a hearing. Allow the public a mere three - or better - four weeks.