Public participation in planning commission meetings is crucial |

Public participation in planning commission meetings is crucial

Diana Etheridge, Jim Jadlos, Tom Malmgren

A long-developing undercurrent of public concern has emerged regarding how recent Ten Mile Planning Commission meetings are conducted and how that conduct impacts public participation. The planning commission reviews and approves Intrawest proposals for the development of Copper Mountain.

We think the public misses the leadership of previous planning commission chairs Nick Doperalski, Lane Wyatt and Michelle Tonti who by their actions recognized the developer and public participants as equal partners.

Current chair Dan Basica is perceived by many as being overly solicitous to the developer’s needs. We believe this perception strongly surfaced at the commission’s Aug. 8 meeting when people openly questioned the chair’s tactics and impartiality.

It seems that meetings progress according to the developer’s wishes, sometimes with the chair’s obvious preference for the developer’s proposals. Rather than allowing common ground to develop among other commissioners, the chair is seen as pushing commissioners toward his preferences. While this might be seen as moving the meeting along, we think it is overt manipulation.

There also seems to be a severe lack of understanding about the purpose of public hearings. It seems as if there are instances of planning commission and Intrawest collaborations to the exclusion of the public at critical moments during meetings. In public comment periods, the public must adhere to rules and time limits – no objections to that – while the developer seems to have no time constraints.

The resulting long meetings – five hours on July 11 and Aug. 8 – which follow courses of action preferred by the developer, discourage public attendance. The way agendas are set, it is often difficult for the public to know what topics will be discussed and in what order before arriving at meetings. Witness the ineffectiveness of this week’s posting of content-free meeting notices around the village and the postcards with unreadable text mailed to property owners. What will be discussed at the next meeting? Parking? Transportation? Recreation?

Only insiders know for sure.

The public very much appreciates the time and effort all commissioners devote to their commission duties. There has been speculation that some commissioners – or at least one – are thinking about resigning because of the lengthy and often-repetitive meetings. More commissioners are likely to reconsider their commitment to serve, unless something is done to improve the process. Nevertheless, in deference to Intrawest’s wishes, commissioners decided to add two special meetings to the regular schedule of monthly planning commission meetings.

Not surprisingly, the public is generally reluctant to commit time to this extended public process except in those cases where their specific locales are affected by Intrawest proposals. Additional long meetings will only further discourage public participation, but obviously work to the advantage of the developer.

There are some obvious fixes to this situation, and the first is for commission leadership to become better educated about the purpose of public hearings and the value of public participation. Listening to tapes of old Doperalski/Wyatt/Tonti meetings and even seeking their counsel would be another step in the right direction, as would some direction from the Board of County Commissioners.

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