City Mulls Charging Neighborhood Groups for Night Zoning Hearings

Under a new proposal, Louisville Metro Government would bill neighborhood groups approximately $3,000 to hold zoning hearings in their affected communities.

The Metro Planning Commission often holds special meetings at neighborhood venues in the evenings when residents and developers clash over controversial new projects or developments.

But city officials says rising costs for things such as a court reporter, recording equipment and security are harder to pay for in lean budget times.

“We’ve gotten to the point where in the past couple of years our budget has gone down quite a bit,” says Metro Planning and Design Services Director Phil Bills. “And a lot of places we go to are not convenient for video or audio recording. In our downtown location we have that equipment, but when we go out we have to hire a court reporter and that’s up to $1,500 alone.”

The idea was discussed briefly at the Metro Planning Commission last Friday, and the proposal has been tabled.

Attorney Stephen Porter represents OPEN Louisville and other preservationist groups in zoning cases. He says neighborhood leaders object to the idea because it burdens residents and favors developers

“The public shouldn’t have to pay in order to have convenient access to its government officials. Mayor (Greg) Fischer put out at the start of his administration a Louisville Metro citizen’s Bill of Rights and the number one thing on there was convenient access,” he says.

Bills says the proposal is still a preliminary idea and the department is reviewing practices in other cities, but could come up with a compromise.

One idea being floated is holding the hearings at other buildings owned Metro Government across the city rather than downtown. Another recommendation Bills tells WFPL he will forward to Fischer’s office is the department should buy recording equipment in order to hold neighborhood hearings.

Asked whether the proposed fee would put some groups at a disadvantage, the planning director acknowledged that could be a problem but points out developers also incur costs.

“That’s a real tough one to answer,” says Bills. “The developers have to pay a substantial amount of money to have their case filed and be represented by engineers, attorneys and so on.”

When Bills was hired in 2011, Fischer’s office pointed out that an independent review concluded  the agency had “systemic problems” leading to delays that frustrate developers and neighborhood leaders.

The audit recommended a number of changes such as a streamlined review for developers on non-controversial projects and more timely notification to residents impacted by any development.

“That’s another part of the problem is there will be some neighborhoods where the people will have no way of raising that kind of money,” says Porter. “And others while they could possibly raise that money shouldn’t even have to even if they are able to. It should be fair and equal, and free access for all citizens.”

Any proposed fee requires approval by the Metro Council.

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