Building Commissioner Shawn Seymour says the city of Pacific faces explosive growth in the near future and should get ready for it.
“We’re going to have developers knocking at our door,” he said.
Speaking at the July 10 planning and zoning commission (P&Z) meeting, the building commissioner called for a revamp of P&Z practices and the city’s zoning codes.
Seymour said he will guide commissioners through measures to streamline the process for reviewing zone change and development applications.
He said he worries that commissioners might not be up to the pressures that are coming and will help identify changes that could ease stress on commissioners and improve the experience of developers.
One issue he referred to repeatedly was to eliminate zone change public hearings at the P&Z level.
City ordinance stipulates that P&Z shall conduct advertised public hearings for all zone change applications.
Echoing comments made by City Attorney Bob Jones at a recent board of aldermen meeting, Seymour said the public comment section of city meetings and the state required public hearings are synonymous.
“The argument could be made that every P&Z meeting is a public hearing,” he said. “There are speaker cards and people can speak.”
The five commissioners present at the meeting unanimously resisted ending zone change public hearings at their level. They said if there is to be only one public hearing, in which neighboring property owners are notified, it should be held at P&Z, the first time the measure is discussed in a public meeting.
Seymour started his comments saying he thinks commissioners are not sure of their role.
Chairman Linda Bruns said it’s the role of the board to review applications and make sure they comply with city ordinances.
Commissioner Mike Bates said the P&Z meetings are the place for residents to come to voice concerns.
“Having the public hearings here, lets us hear both sides of the issue. It lets us hear from residents and from the neighborhood,” he added. “It lets us keep a close eye on whether our plan matches where we ought to be going . . . in a very nonbiased light.”
‘Need to Listen’
Bruns said she likes that people come to P&Z and voice their opinions.
“We need to listen to their options — not necessarily agree, but listen,” she said.
Jerry Eversmeyer said public hearings should start at planning and zoning when there is a change of zoning so citizens can speak before action is taken.
“When there is a change, the citizens should have a voice and know what is coming up,” Eversmeyer said. “We need to know what their voice is.”
Don Graham said he had formerly lived in West St. Louis County and attended meetings in municipalities where officials spoke in shotgun English then voted with no real discussion.
“I talked with Mr. Bates before I moved here,” Graham said. “Paciﬁc sounded like a community where people are involved. Without community involvement, we won’t go anywhere.”
Seymour said it’s critical that citizens play a role in what the city does, but he questioned where the public should be invited to speak.
“My question to you all is are you comfortable being that first phase?” Seymour asked. “You have to review applications based on planning and code. Are you all comfortable with being the ﬁrst line of emotion?”
Saying the city is poised for growth and ready to explode, Seymour said officials are currently facing applications for two subdivisions and people are exploring for a third subdivision and major businesses are coming to town.
“Pacific is the next stop on the growth train,” he said.
Seymour said he worries that commissioners would face too much pressure if they continue to hold public hearings on zone changes.
“I get concerned with the amount of growth I perceive, with (developers) bombarding us and the public pressure you will feel when trying to do your job,” he said. “I’m more comfortable with the public voicing their concerns with the ofﬁcial public hearing in front of the mayor and board of aldermen.”
Bruns said P&Z is not new to emotional public hearings.
“We’ve had our share of controversy. We had one public hearing at Pacific High School,” Bruns said. “I don’t think that is an issue. We can hold our own.”
Seymour said changes are needed.
“I was brought here to work on code enforcement and bring in new development,” he said. “I can’t bring in new development until code enforcement is taken care of.”
Bruns said the commission is open to considering changes and thought it would help to invite an expert to come and make a presentation about streamlining commission activities.
The building commissioner said he’s the individual who should instruct the commission.
“In my former life I was a planning consultant and gave those presentations monthly,” Seymour said. “I can do that.”
Changes Seymour would call for include zoning ordinances and the number of meetings and hurdles that every process requires.
“One thing I don’t care for is that the mayor and board of aldermen do everything,” he said. “I’d like to see more out of P&Z. There are several applications you should be allowed to approve.
“Why are conditional use permits (CUPs) approved by the board of aldermen?” he asked. “I’d like CUP to be a permit approved at P&Z. Final development plan, site plan, preliminary plat, why are they not approved here?”
Seymour returned to his primary point that P&Z should not hold zone change public hearings. He said the 15-day notice is just putting a burden on the applicants.
“Why are we having so many public hearings? They (the developers) come to P&Z and then go to board of aldermen. I don’t understand why the zoning ordinance requires such a large amount of public hearings,” Seymour said. “Everything is approved by the mayor and the board.”
Bruns said if the commission planned to review wide ranging changes to codes or procedures, it should include the board of aldermen in the discussion.
“This discussion needs to be done with the board so everybody understands we’re not trying to take their approval away,” he said.
Bruns said while there is a need to make Pacific more business friendly for applicants so they want to come here, the commission should include aldermen in the discussion so everyone is on the same page.
Seymour said talks need to continue because the city zoning ordinances need work.
“They are not good enough for you all to do your job,” he said. “We definitely need to make changes. Global change is coming. Developers are getting ready to start breathing down our throat.”
Seymour said changes to the zoning codes should be made incrementally and when the commission is satisfied with all the changes they could be organized in a new codebook.
Bruns said the commission would look to the building commissioner for suggestions on where to start the discussion. She also said aldermen should be invited to the discussion meeting.
“If we leave them out we’ll be butting heads. But if we include them I don’t think there will be a problem,” she said. “They (aldermen) want to get this city moving to make it the city it should be.”
“You should start with process,” Seymour said, “including the number of meetings, number of public hearings, things you all should approve.”
Seymour said he will prepare a spreadsheet and give his recommendations.
The commission scheduled the first public meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 24. The meeting will be open to the public.