Steinbrecher questions city panel in Kent

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Kent City Council is being asked to clarify the role of a city commission in the wake of concerns that the board is making the site plan review process too long and creating an unfriendly atmosphere for developers.

City Manager Lew Steinbrecher is asking council to revisit the role of the Environmental Commission, an advisory committee which makes recommendations to the planning commission.

In recent weeks, the Environmental Commission's chairman, Douglas Shaw, has been vocal in his opposition to a rezoning of property at the corner of S.R. 261 and Sunnybrook Road from residential to commercial. Shaw is a resident of Sunnybrook Road.

The commission has also called for several changes to plans for a shopping center at the corner of S.R. 43 and 261. Shaw, whose home is not far from the shopping center, moderated a discussion by the Kent Environmental Council on the development.

Steinbrecher said his concerns about how the commission operate go back several months, and he has received several questions from city staff on how comments from the commission are to be treated.

"We want to have a smooth, fair review process," he said. "We as an organization need to have a good understanding of how the environmental commission fits into that process. I'm asking these questions so we can improve the process and facilitate development as best as we can."

The board was created in 1995 to establish a set of sustainability goals. Environmental Services Manager Mary Gilbert said those goals were approved by council last year.

This fall, the commission began reviewing specific projects to see if they are consistent with the sustainability goals.

Besides Shaw, the board also includes Charles Frederick, who is vice chairman, and Ann Marie Halal. There are two vacancies on the five member panel.

None could be reached for comment.

Steinbrecher said he was concerned that the additional review creates a new additional and longer review process that developers feel obligated to go through, even though the ordinance creating the commission states that the board does not have the power to make decisions.

He also expressed concern about Shaw's unfavorable comments toward projects such as the rezoning, adding that it is unclear whether Shaw's comments were being made in his capacity on the commission or as a private citizen.

"I understand that people do not give up their rights as citizens when they sign up for a city panel," he said.

In a letter to Steinbrecher and council, Halal said she believed she and the other members of the commission have followed their duty to advise the commission on how the sustainability goals apply to various projects, a duty she said was outlined in the city's own law.

"As a citizen volunteer in a public service capacity, I take that seriously, and to ignore it could be considered irresponsible," she stated.

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