Board hears staff responses to town hall meeting comments

City hall
City hall

City directors heard staff responses to public comments made during the planning department's town hall in the summer at the city board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

The town hall was held on Thursday, Aug. 24, at the Siloam Springs Public Library and was hosted by the city's planning department. During the town hall, planning staff members presented different roles the planning department plays in the growth of the city and also answered questions.

Staff members worked on responses to questions posed by citizens and developers during the town hall and presented them to the board.

"There's nothing that's necessarily actionable out of this," said Senior Planner Ben Rhoads, who presented the findings to the board. "It's just giving you our response and our recommendations. And then we'd be happy to take any of your feedback."

Staff recommendations

Changes were recommended on several points according to a staff report prepared by Rhoads on Oct. 11. The first point was removing the Title Certification Block from plats. A local surveyor called this an unnecessary step because it only lists the name of the person who was on the last deed.

The staff response was, after consulting the legal department, staff members started asking for the warranty deed for any lot work as an alternative form of verification of title.

The second point staff recommended was removing the requirement for having the city board accept every plat easement.

After consulting legal and community development, it was determined that there is no state law or city ordinance that mandates that only the city board can accept easements, the report states. In other cities, this function is handled by the municipality's planning commission.

The next point was retooling the IWorq portal, which developers use to view updates on plats and developments. Plans are in the works to acquire new permitting software in 2024 that is better equipped for an improved user experience.

The staff also recommended using only the 10 percent rule, which involves altering approved applications if common sense is involved.

The next point involved recommending not taking all applications to the city board. Developers commented that projects do not need to go to the planning commission and the city board.

Developers also stressed that the Siloam Springs planning process is too slow and other cities don't require this many steps. Staff suggests that significant development and preliminary plats stop at the planning commission while other permits go before the board, the report states.

The final point city staff recommended revolved around the number of steps related to public hearing notifications. Staff recommended relaxing some of the guidelines for minor projects such as lot splits.

Board response

Director Mindy Hunt thanked the planning department for the town hall and for giving the board the information. Director David Allen said that, while he appreciates alternative viewpoints and the planning department, he cannot support bypassing the board on changing the approval process.

Allen's reasoning was that the city board consists of people elected by the public and that the planning commission's members are appointed by the board.

"In fact, this board has very little input on appointments to the planning commission," Allen said. "And I think the public feels many times more accessible to this board, that they can access this board when there is something coming up."

Other directors who agreed with Allen were directors Betsy Blair, Carol Smiley and Ken Wiles. Director Lesa Rissler said she could see both sides of the argument.

"I'm pro-citizen," Rissler said. "But ... I don't want to make it hard for somebody to do business inside (the city)."

Rhoads said it was about four weeks between the planning commission's review and the board's review. Rissler asked if there was a way to speed up the process.

The process is difficult to speed up, Rhoads said, because of all the documents staff had to prepare for the board and that ordinances and resolutions had to be reviewed by the legal department.

"We could look into that," Rhoads said. "But it would potentially be difficult to make it any quicker because, keep in mind, the only other board meeting available would be the one immediately the week after planning commission."

Following more discussion, Mayor Judy Nation said she believed the board had given city administrator Allan Gilbert the direction he needed to proceed with the changes.

City directors also approved and heard the following items:

Presentations

The 2022 audit from Landmark CPAs.

Consent agenda

Regular meeting minutes from the Nov. 7 meeting.

Pre-agenda meeting minutes for the pre-agenda meeting on Nov. 15.

The reappointment of Tim McCord to the AR Public Education Facilities Board.

Appointing Jason Davis to the Benton County Regional Solid Waste Management Board.

Appointing Candy Alfano and Tod Williams to the Parks Advisory Board.

Appointing Isaac McKinney, Chris Salley and Tony Williams to the Planning Commission.

The annual chemical bids for the water works division.

Resolution 65-23 concerning setting a hearing date for the easement vacation at 816 East Main Street.

Approvals

The 2023 auction list and Dwayne Craig Auction Service.

Ordinances

Placing Ordinance 23-25 concerning amending the city municipal code relating to minor subdivisions on its second reading.

Placing Ordinance 23-26 regarding the rezoning of the 2200 block of South Lincoln Street from G-I (General industrial) to I-1 (Industrial) on its second reading.

Placing Ordinance 23-28 regarding the rezoning of 3861 Highway 412 E. from A-1 (Agriculture) to C-2 (Roadway commercial) on its second and third readings and then taking a separate vote to approve the ordinance.

Placing Ordinance 23-29 concerning the rezoning of the 500 block of South Britt Street from R-2 (Residential medium) to C-2 on its second reading.

Placing Ordinance 23-30 regarding the annexation of 114.43 acres of the 2700 East Block of Keck Road on its first reading.

Staff reports

Administrator's report.