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Planning Commission could take BZA role

by Rachel Dickerson | September 8, 2021 at 5:28 a.m.

At a work session of the Bella Vista Planning Commission on Thursday, planners discussed a possible ordinance to eliminate a separate board of zoning adjustment and to allow for the planning commission to take up those duties.

Staff member Derek Linn told the commissioners that, since the last board of zoning adjustment meeting, there were unexpectedly three resignations from the seven-person board. He said state code says a city does not have to have a unique group of people serving as the BZA and that the planning commission can do it. He said the duties would involve hearing variance requests from zoning codes, appeals to staff determinations and making judgment calls in the event that boundaries in the city zoning map are unclear.

He further noted that having planning take up the duties of the BZA would have advantages, including simplifying the city's calendar, making things easier for residents, making it easier for staff to meet deadlines and generally simplifying government.

Linn said that, following the three resignations, there was supposed to be a meeting in September, but one member of the board could not attend, and three members did not make a quorum. He said there are applicants for variances waiting, and the city would like to get the ordinance approved at the city council's Sept. 27 meeting so the applicants do not have to wait two months. He said Mayor Peter Christie supports the idea.

Commissioner JB Portillo said she thought it was a great idea. Chairman Daniel Ellis asked what the procedure would look like -- whether the BZA business would be handled first and then planning commission or the other way around.

Linn said he had seen it both ways.

Ellis said in Springdale they do planning commission business first and then variances at the end. He said in Lowell they do variances first. He said either approach is fine. However, he noted, variances always involve public hearings, and he always encourages staff to keep public hearings first to be respectful of the public who attend so they do not have to sit through the entire meeting if they do not want to.

Commissioner Craig Honchell said, in Fayetteville, they did variances first so that residents did not have to sit through a long meeting.

In other business, the planning commission looked at a mass city rezone/zoning map amendment with 23 parcels. A public hearing will be held on the properties at the planning commission's regular meeting on Sept. 13 at 4:30 p.m. via Zoom. The planning commission also considered a request to waive frontage requirements for a driveway at 26 Swanage Drive.

Print Headline: Planning Commission could take BZA role

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