County commission likely to take up IPC public comment cut next week

Taylor Cooper, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 12—Islands Planning commissioners hit a snag in their attempt to cut in half the duration of public comment periods on site plans and village preservation permits when it went before the Glynn County Commission last week.

The commission declined to ratify the change, preferring instead to discuss it first.

In 2017, the IPC instituted the public comment policy in a mirror image to public hearings — one hour total, 30 minutes each for those opposed and those in favor and five minutes per speaker.

Under the proposed policy change, the public comment period would be reduced to 30 minutes total allowing three minutes per speaker, scrapping the "for and against" framework.

Members of the IPC voted unanimously to ask the county commission to make the change official by formally adopting it, but commissioners voted 7-0 to defer the matter to a future meeting.

"I don't think restricting their right to have their opinion heard is a good thing," At-large Commissioners Walter Rafolski told The News this week.

But — some members of the IPC will tell you — that's exactly the problem.

Public comment periods are not public hearings, which IPC Chairman Joel Willis has no intention of attempting to shorten. Public hearings are relevant to zoning matters, including property rezoning, land use permits and planned development text amendments

The public has a right to voice opinions on those, Willis said.

But the IPC considers other applications too, including site plans and Pier Village preservation permits. They are administrative items, which the IPC cannot approve or deny based on opinion, Willis said. As has been said at past planning commission meetings, if the developer checks all the boxes, they should get their site plan or preservation permit approved.

County Commissioner Cap Fendig, who represents St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands, agrees.

The public already had a chance to stop a project from happening during the zoning process. If a parcel is zoned such that a gas station is an allowed use, then the public and the county have little say as to whether they can build that enterprise, he explained.

He also noted the chairman of any commission or board has the authority to extend public comment periods if necessary.

"People have to be reminded when it comes to site plan discussion or village preservation discussion, the projects have already had public hearings and been approved," Fendig said. "It is a technical discussion for the planning commission to have in public and allow further comments.

"It is not as it is perceived, a 'I'm for or against,' and that ends the project. That part has already passed long ago. So it does not need the laborious conversation time which is applicable to public hearings on whether a project should move forward or not."

When a site plan comes to the IPC, whether someone likes or dislikes it really has no bearing, Willis said, hence the proposal to remove the two-sided framework.

Rafolski didn't disagree with that part of it.

"I think it makes sense, I really do. You've got a way for more people to get involved in a shorter period," Rafolski said.