Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sun Valley mayor, council clash

Discussion of comprehensive plan heats up


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

In a heated discussion on Thursday, Sept. 20, the Sun Valley City Council refused to appoint Mayor Dewayne Briscoe to a steering committee to recommend updates to the city’s comprehensive plan to the Planning & Zoning Commission.

At the meeting, Briscoe suggested that the council appoint him as the committee’s chairperson and appoint Councilman Nils Ribi and Planning & Zoning member Jake Provonsha as voting members. Briscoe said he should be chairperson to organize the first meeting and get the ball rolling. After the first meeting, Briscoe said, he would step down and the committee could elect another chairperson.

Though the discussion was heated and the council members interrupted each other numerous times, the council decided unanimously not to appoint Briscoe, Ribi or Provonsha to the committee as voting members. Instead, they will serve as non-voting “informational resource” members who will attend the committee meetings to offer advice.

“I think removing the mayor from this committee is a real personal affront and professional affront,” Briscoe said at the meeting.

According to Virginia Egger, interim executive assistant to the mayor, the comprehensive plan is the most important guiding document for the city and sets forth how future development should occur.

“It establishes the economic, environmental and social development of the community,” she said.

Over the past year, the plan has been the subject of some discussion and the city has decided it is due for an update. The plan was last updated in 2005.

Council President Bob Youngman said at the meeting that because the decision to adopt the updates recommended by the committee is ultimately made by the City Council, elected officials should not have a vote on the committee as well. He said this might represent a conflict of interest. The process calls for the committee to submit its recommendations to the Planning & Zoning Commission, and the Planning & Zoning Commission then submits its recommendations to the council.

“In a world full of lawyers, I’d rather be involved as a citizen than risk someone filing a lawsuit against the city,” he said.

Youngman said that the difference between a voting member and a resource was just “semantics” to him. However, Community Development Director Mark Hofman sees things differently.

“Committee member or informational resource, it’s definitely a distinction, a category. If the committee runs into a tough issue and needs to vote to make a decision, that distinction becomes clear.”

Briscoe also disagreed with Youngman’s view.

“I’m not a resource,” Briscoe said. “I’m the elected mayor of Sun Valley. I should be totally involved with this committee.”

Councilman Franz Suhadolnik did not think elected officials should hold a vote on the committee.

“I think it should be a citizens’ committee,” Suhadolnik said.

Representatives of Sun Valley Co. also attended the meeting to voice their concerns. Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co.’s director of resorts and resort development, said Sun Valley Co.—as the single largest landowner in the city—was underrepresented on the 20-member committee. The resort had only one voting member on the committee, General Manager Tim Silva.

“I don’t see how it’s democratic for 18 or 19 people to decide the vision of land owned by one,” Huffman said.

The council members voiced opinions that the comprehensive plan should be developed publicly and democratically, but agreed with Huffman that the resort should have more say. The council voted to add Huffman to the committee as a voting member, bringing the resort’s representation up to two votes out of 15. The committee will have five resource members and also a non-voting student member, bringing the total to 21 people.

The seed that sparked the city’s decision to review the plan was planted last summer when Sun Valley Co. submitted a set of development applications to the P&Z for review. These applications gained a following—a contingent of protesters who rallied to stop them. A public hearing on the issue in August 2011 drew more than 125 people to the City Council meeting, including protesters outside City Hall.

A month later, Sun Valley Co. abruptly withdrew its application. Huffman chastised the city, saying the review and approval process is broken, resulting in a huge expense to the company. That prompted city officials to discuss how they could improve the process and whether the plan should be updated. The city decided earlier this year to update the plan and establish the committee to guide the process.

“The city advertised for interested persons to join the committee early this spring,” Hofman said. “Major property owners and members of the public are represented on the committee.”

Hofman said Tuesday that the committee is expected to hold its first meeting in mid- to late October. He said its members should decide on a date sometime next week. The committee’s meetings will be open to the public.

Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com

 




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