‘Scrap it,’ say some of city’s design review subcommittee

Eric Gaines

Eric Gaines

A little less conversation, a little more action — the Oberlin planning commission is considering disbanding the design review subcommittee to reduce redundancy.

Matters such as sign application presentations and other business are done before both the subcommittee and the commission, which some commission members think wastes time.

“I call it paralysis by analysis,” commission member Eric Gaines said a May 4 meeting. “We’re just going to have to make a move one way or the other and if we make someone uncomfortable or upset about it, well, it is what it is.”

If the commission decides to eliminate the subcommittee, city council members would have to approve it, said councilwoman Sharon Soucy, the commission’s council liaison.

“They’re very interested in making this process smoother and less lengthy, ” Soucy said.

The proposed elimination is part of efforts by commission members to prioritize and better use their time.

For example, efforts are underway to expedite the sign application process so routine applications can be approved by the planning department rather than going before the subcommittee and commission.

One alternative to elimination discussed Wednesday was adding subcommittee members to the commission. However, commission member Bryan Stubbs cautioned that adding members would make meetings overly long.

He said that would discourage residents from volunteering to serve on the commission. “We’re going to lose good, qualified people,” he said.

Peter Crowley, commission vice chairman, said another alternative is only holding subcommittee meetings for major applications that need additional scrutiny. He cited the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center, the $38 million hotel and conference center at East College and North Main streets, as an example. The hotel is expected to open Friday.

“Perhaps we just need to define more narrowly what a design subcommittee would do,” said Crowley, who is also a subcommittee member. “That would help create a smoother review process for most things.”

Subcommittee member David Sonner, who wasn’t at the meeting, said in an interview that he is ambivalent about the subcommittee. He said the extra scrutiny the subcommittee provides can benefit the commission but conceded its work is often redundant.

“It’s had a useful function but I also am inclined to make the process less cumbersome,” said Sonner, a subcommittee members since 2014. “We could do without the design review subcommittee.”

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.

Eric Gaines
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