Oberlin city council eliminates design review subcommittee

By Scott Mahoney - smahoney@civitasmedia.com



City council voted to disband the design review subcommittee at Monday night’s meeting.

The decision wasn’t a complete surprise, as council member Sharon Soucy informed the planning commission last Wednesday of the possible decision.

“There has been a sense in council, for some time, that we want to move toward a position where we are, and are perceived as being, more business friendly, and that the activities that our commissions engage in are a little more streamlined and welcoming,” Soucy said. “The feeling on council right now is that one way to move forward on this to blend, or to return, design review’s charges to you as a committee.”

Soucy said the city’s law director, Jon Clark, drafted an ordinance at council’s direction that would eliminate the design review subcommittee and return its charges back to the planning commission.

Eric Gaines, the vice chair of the planning commission, was supportive of the idea.

“As you may remember, a few years ago, I proposed that very thought,” Gaines said. “Some of the neighboring communities have done just that. They have streamlined the process. I don’t think it’s an added burden for us to do that.”

One of the problems council sees with the subcommittee is developers often must make a presentation to design review and then repeat the presentation 30 minutes later to the planning commission, which council members reiterated during Monday’s meeting.

Members of the planning commission agreed.

“I would agree that would be a smart way to go. It’s been my experience that a developer or property owner comes in and ends up basically giving a presentation two times,” planning commission member Tony Mealy said. “A lot gets missed on the second presentation, which is really our responsibility. Sometimes, all the questions seem to be asked by design review, questions that really aren’t in their purview.

“I agree that it’s a duplication, and it’s just not very friendly to people coming before this board.”

Soucy also wanted to be clear that the decision was to make it easier for new businesses to come to Oberlin.

“This has nothing to do with the personnel who served us on design review,” she said. “They have done a good job; many of them have brought particular talents to the issues that have faced them. I just want to make it clear there’s no hidden motive here at all, except to make this function more smoothly.”

In February, Clark released a statement regarding the validity of some action design review took after appointments to the subcommittee were not made by the end of 2016, as is stipulated in the city charter.

The decision to disband the board has nothing to do with those problems, according to Soucy.

“That was an unfortunate event that should not have happened,” she said. “This decision has nothing to do with that, though. This is something council has been considering for close to three years now.”

Clark, though, seemed to indicate that the issues that arose in February were also part of the decision to disband design review now.

“At the end of 2016, not all of the appointing commissions did what they were supposed to do. As a result, there is not a quorum of appointed members of that committee for this year. Resulting from that is an inability to make certain recommendations on approvals,” Clark said. “… One solution is to repeal the ordinance that establishes the subcommittee, in which case the review process would be handled entirely by the planning commission. In that event, the other two ordinances will need to be amended to remove references to the role of the subcommittee. The other alternative is to prepare legislation to revise the method of appointment, so that a full committee can be appointed for this year.

“It was my recommendation and that of the director of planning and development (Carrie Handy), and I understand it was the recommendation of the planning commission, that the first course of action be pursued.”

We pressed Clark for more information on why his account and Soucy’s did not match. He walked away without answering.

Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.


By Scott Mahoney