Hounding town staff

Town planning director J.B. Culpepper and I* went to see “The Great Gatsby” atNancy Oates the library, rather than attend the Planning Board meeting taking place at the same time. Culpepper evidently had confidence, as did I, that town planning department staff would do their job in presenting the revised plan for Timber Hollow to the board.

We were wrong.

The owner-investors of Timber Hollow submitted a revised plan to town planning department staff, who, in turn, presented it to Town Council. Some council members saw the revisions as substantial and instructed town planning department staff to send the revised plan to the Planning Board and the Community Design Commission to get input from those two advisory boards.

Planning department staff told the CDC only that the developers “had shifted a number of units,” but that the amount of disturbed land and impervious surface had decreased, and there “was no change to the total areas, unit count or affordable housing,” according to CDC chair Jason Hart. So the CDC made no comment on the revised plan.

Planning Board chair Neal Bench said of the planning staff update to his board, “We have not seen the specifics” and “legality was not discussed.”

The legality refers to the developer asking staff for a density bonus beyond the increase from R-4 to R-5 in exchange for the promise of making the rent for 14 apartments affordable to people making no more than 80% of the Area Median Income. State law won’t allow that deal, yet no one on the planning staff has run this proposal by town attorney Ralph Karpinos. During the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment hearings, Karpinos said that increased density in exchange for affordable units was unenforceable, but the town planners shepherding Timber Hollow through the rezoning process were not aware of Karpinos’ statement.

It’s certainly not the first time town planning staff have blown off council members. Numerous times the mayor or other council members have asked the planning staff for information before making a decision on a development issue, and when decision time rolls around, the planning staff have failed to deliver.

Taxpayers should not have to follow town staff around making sure they do their jobs, yet apparently that’s the only way to find out whether staff are doing what their bosses – council members – ask them to do.

Is there any wonder why taxpayers have such anxiety over the prospect of Form-Based Code in Ephesus-Fordham that allows town staff to make all the development decisions and answer to no one?
– Nancy Oates
*We did not go together; we just both happened to be there.

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  1. George C

     /  March 17, 2014

    Hi Nancy,
    Not to split hairs, but we, the Council Members, are not the Town Staffs’ bosses. Only two people report to the Town Council, the Town Manager, Roger Stancil, and the Town Attorney, Ralph Karpinos. If we have a problem with how policy is being carried out then we need to take it up with Roger. It may seem like a small difference to many, but to me it is the difference between Council setting policy and allowing the Manager to manage versus Council trying to micro-manage. I’ve always preferred that Council emphasize the former.

  2. Nancy

     /  March 17, 2014

    Fair enough. I was going by the math principal that if A=B and B=C then A=C. Still, it raises the question why doesn’t the town manager push his staff to be more compliant with council requests? Roger Stancil never gives pushback; you don’t hear him say, “No, we’re not going to do that because ….” Instead, staff just ignore council requests. That seems very inefficient and ineffective, given that if council doesn’t have the information it needs to make a sound decision, progress comes to a halt. Or Stancil becomes the decider of which council decisions to implement.

  3. DOM

     /  March 17, 2014

    Molehill, meet anthill.