In the aftermath of a December hearing on an Edmondson Avenue Royal Farms project that community members said they did not hear about until too late, County Councilman Tom Quirk is proposing a fix.
A bill expected to be introduced Monday would strengthen the requirement that zoning variance hearings be posted on the county’s website and mandate that if hearing notices are not posted properly, the administrative law judge cannot consider a petition for a variance.
“In today’s day and age, with the technology we have, there’s simply no excuse why people shouldn’t have notice on everything,” Quirk said.
Notices, the bill says, must be posted on the Zoning and Development Hearings calendar and on the Community Update Newsletter page, at least 15 days before the hearing.
Quirk said he believes the bill should gain wide support in the County Council.
“I think every council member, in today’s day and age, the last thing we want to hear from anyone is a feeling that something’s being done behind closed doors, or something’s being done for the wrong reasons,” Quirk said.
Matthew Riesner, president of the Ingleside Neighborhood Association, called the December hearing on a proposed Royal Farms on Edmondson Avenue “a real issue of county government transparency” in January, saying his community was not aware of the hearing until after the monthlong comment period had passed.
At the hearing, Royal Farms obtained permission to build a large gas station and convenience store on the site of what is now auto repair shops and a liquor store. A Royal Farms convenience store already exists nearby, but residents say its location is not ideal for the traffic it garners.
“It actually looks like a fine project,” Riesner said, adding that he attended a meeting with the project’s managers in Quirk’s office. It was the lack of notification that he had a problem with, he said.
“The community’s concerns about communication, I think, were valid,” Quirk said, noting even his own office did not know about the Dec. 1 hearing until the day it happened.
Quirk’s bill, Riesner said, is a good start, but does not go far enough in addressing the ways the county communicates with the public.
“There’s an opportunity here for better transparency, and I think this bill should be a little more comprehensive,” he said.
Riesner favors expanding the 15-day requirement for online posting to 30 days to ensure that the hearing makes it into one of the two monthly newsletters delivered to residents’ in-boxes.
Other changes Riesner is hoping for include increasing the size of signs posted on properties; requiring that notice be posted in locally read newspapers in addition to countywide newspapers; and notifying community associations, which register with the county, about projects taking place in their areas.
Quirk said that he is considering adding some of the ideas community members like Riesner are proposing to his legislation.
“I think it’s really important that communities know exactly what’s going on,” Quirk said.