Batavia, IL. (ECWd) –
The Batavia Plan Commission opened a public hearing on June 3, 2015 to discuss Zoning Code Text amendments that Batavia City Staff recommended. At the table were the 7 Plan Commissioners and two Batavia staff members, Joel Strassman, Planning and Zoning officer, and Drew Rakow, City Planner.
The Plan Commission violated Batavia’s Zoning Code, the Plan Commission Bylaws, and the Zoning Board of Appeals Bylaws by not allowing a resident to cross examine Staff at the June 3rd meeting, as required in Batavia Zoning Code 5.703E and 5.206B5. (See pages 7, 9, and 11 of the Batavia Zoning Code)
Now, with the June 17th continuance of the Public Hearing rezoning, Batavia residents are fearful that they may do it again.
As background, many Batavia residents were deeply concerned and upset about the fact that their rights, to receive a thorough report by Staff before the rezoning public hearing in 2014 regarding a rezoning proposal to spot zone a 55 acre industrial park right in their neighborhood, were denied. Therefore, the residents didn’t have an opportunity to review what Staff’s analysis would be before the March 2014 rezoning Public Hearing. Staff subsequently (after the Rezoning Public Hearing) released the report, only for residents to find out that Staff’s analysis was subjective, error ridden, and sloppy, to the detriment of the residents.
The Plan Commission voted for the Rezoning, which led to an all-out battle with Batavia City Hall by the residents, to defeat the rezoning effort (see www.KeepBataviaNeighborhoods.com ) for further information about that effort. Note that Bill McGrath subsequently admitted to residents and City Council that he did not follow the Zoning Code 5.803E, but that it was okay that he violated it – but that is for another article.
If the text changes happen as Staff proposes, residents will have absolutely no way to know if, or how, Staff will evaluate a Rezoning or Development request, before that Public Hearing, so residents will have no way to react or question Staff’s subjective and possibly erroneous analysis of whether a rezoning/development request conforms to the Comprehensive Plan (review plan here).
A Batavia resident testified [see transripted testimony] at the June 3, 2015 public hearing that Staff’s proposed changes to Zoning Code 5.803E were seriously unfair to residents. Their proposed changes would give Staff more control over future development outcomes and eliminate the need for Staff’s formal analysis (report) about how each of the 350 Goals and Policies conformed or not to Batavia’s Comprehensive Plan (for any proposed development or rezoning). This elimination of this information before the Public Hearing would give residents less information when future public hearings for development or rezoning were held, and they would have no chance to rebut or question any of Staff’s subjective viewpoint for conformance or not during that Public Hearing.
When the resident’s testimony was over, she stated that she had questions for the Staff regarding the Staff’s proposed changes. The Plan Commission chair, Tom LaLonde, told her that “she could give testimony, but he won’t entertain questions [by her] of staff at this time”. (Audio below)
The Public Hearing was then closed, with a commitment by the Chair to ask the questions of Staff that the resident had formulated in advance on a piece of paper that she handed to Chair LaLonde. What transpired after that for the next few minutes was not a question answer session with the resident’s questions, but rather a word-smithing session on what the Code 5.803E should be changed to. What was egregious about this discussion by Staff and the Plan Commission, was that Staff did not clarify with the Plan Commission what report they were even talking about. In fact, it was not the right report at all. Although the resident called out that it was the “wrong report”, nothing was done.
At the end of the meeting, the Plan Commission did rescind the close of the Public Hearing, and extended the Public Hearing (on these Zoning Text changes) to June 17th.
Here are the issues with this meeting:
1. The Commissioner Chair denied the resident’s rights to “cross examine” as Batavia Zoning Code allows
2. Joel Strassman, whose job responsibilities as Planning and Zoning Officer include “Administer and enforce the provisions of the Zoning Code”, did nothing, not a word to clarify what the Batavia Zoning Code said in reference to questions and cross examination to Staff during a Public Hearing. Why does the resident know the Zoning Code better than the person who gets paid by City monies to know it doesn’t? Or if he did, why did he hide it?
3. The Chair, Commission LaLonde, only asked 1 of the questions (given on paper to LaLonde by the resident) rather than all 6, as he had committed to do. This is violation of giving his word to the resident, and then rescinding it without notice.
4. The discussion after the Public Hearing by the Plan Commission and Staff was totally off track because they were talking about the WRONG report and then LaLonde would not let the resident speak again to put them on the right track and cross examine staff who claimed that the Report done after the Public Hearing (instead of before) would be useful to them (but potentially damaging to the residents).
5. Plan Commissioner Gosselin lifted up the Staff Memo of May 28, 2015 and asked Planning officer Strassman whether that was the “report” that [the resident] was talking about, and Strassman did not deny it. He nodded yes. Why did Strassman mislead the Plan Commission?
6. Is the denial to not allow the resident to speak after her 9 minute testimony during the Public Hearing on 6/3/15 a violation of the Open Meetings Act?
The resident is concerned that she doesn’t know if the Plan Commission plans to violate the Zoning Code for “cross examination” at the continued June 17th Hearing, nor does she know if they will allow her clarify what the report is and why it is so important that residents get to see a thorough evaluation before the Public Hearing starts. One of the Commissions was intuitive enough to mention that he thought that the resident didn’t trust Staff. Yes, that is true. The testifying resident and many other Batavia residents don’t trust Batavia Staff, not just for this matter, but for almost everything.