Friday, June 26, 2009

Prepare Yourselves for Interpreting the Planning Vote Labyrinth

Here are the details and dynamics of last night's eventual commission decision to disapprove May Town Center zoning (as I understand them):
  1. Andree LeQuire moves to disapprove Planning staff's recommendation to approve the MTC rezoning request with conditions; after some discussion, LeQuire's motion is defeated 4 (LeQuire, Hunter Gee, Stewart Clifton, Derrick Dalton) to 6 (Victor Tyler, Tonya Jones, Phil Ponder, Jim Gotto, Judy Cummings, and Chair James McLean w/the deciding vote).
  2. Jim Gotto moves to approve Planning staff's recommendation to approve the MTC rezoning request with conditions; LeQuire tries to start discussion, but an argument erupts with McLean and Gotto over whether a debate has been cut off by a parliamentary procedure called "previous question" and whether the Commission should move to an immediate vote; debate is allowed to continue with LeQuire, Clifton, and Gee leading the opposition to Gotto's motion, while Cummings, Jones, Gotto, and Ponder argue for support (those four need to sway Tyler--who says he is leaning toward MTC support--in order to cause McLean to cast the necessary 6th vote to approve); after debate ends, Gotto's motion is defeated "by rule" when only Gotto, Cummings, Jones, and Ponder vote for it; Tyler joins LeQuire, Clifton, Gee, and Dalton to vote against Gotto's support of MTC rezoning; no need for McLean to vote because the MTC supporters did not get necessary 5 votes to require his 6th vote.
  3. Planning Director Rick Bernhardt announces that because the Commission failed to approve the Planning staff's MTC rezoning request, it automatically switches "by rule" to a recommendation of disapproval; Commission has to vote on new recommendation to disapprove: 8 vote for motion to disapprove MTC rezoning (LeQuire, Clifton, Gee, Dalton, Tyler, Jones, Ponder, Cummings), none vote against, Gotto abstains, McLean's vote not needed.

All of this means that May Town Center lost last night's battle. Under the Metro Charter, the Planning Commission's vote to recommend disapproval of MTC requires Metro Council to approve it with a super majority of 27 votes (rather than a simple majority of 21).

I don't interpret the Commission's refusal or failure to approve as rejection of the plan. I do think that Clifton was the commissioner most strongly opposed to May Town Center. Gee and LeQuire seemed opened to certain aspects of it but could not approve all of it. Tyler wanted to vote for it but also asked for more time to reach a decision. Dalton never commented on the reasons for his vote, so he could have been either strongly opposed or opposed only to parts.

Clifton seemed to cue the possibility of delay of the plan when he told the commission that they could not defer, but if they voted against the staff recommendation it could leverage more time. The council may not get 27 votes to pass, but the developers would eventually be back with another proposal.

Taken together, I interpret this coalition of commissioners as wanting to move slower on grandiose planning developments, 1) because of the magnitude of totally changing Bells Bend and 2) because of our current economic downtown and market uncertainty. While I am strongly opposed to MTC and agree most with Clifton, the five together made the most prudent choice given the circumstances. There is no need to rush this through as the council's bill sponsor desired.


  1. Hello Mike -- nice summary! I would add that the commissioners were actually first voting on an amendment to the Bells Bend sub-area plan (rather than an actual rezoning request). This amendment would have made a "special plan" area at what is essentially the proposed May Town Center site, changing the suggested land use policy there from AR2A to MUI zoning (among other things). This would not have been not an actual zoning change, but basically a recommendation for what the zoning and land use should be at that particular place. If the commission had voted to approve this amendment, that would mean that the current rezoning request submitted by the May Town Center would then be consistent with the suggested land use policy for the site (it's not consistent as the policy stands now, since the entire area is zoned AR2A). Since the commission did not approve the amendment, the requested zone change was inconsistent with the land use policy. Thus when the rezoning request was formally considered, Rick Bernhardt had to state that the staff recommended disapproval, and precedent stated that there had been very few times the commission had voted to allow a zoning change request inconsistent with land use policy. Therefore things unfolded as they did as you stated in point #3. Somebody with more understanding might be able to explain this better! However, it doesn't change the outcome too much (and in fact may muddy the waters, at least the way I explained it). Thanks for taking all the time to summarize this. What a night!

  2. This post also helps give some background on the policies underlying the process and the amendment being considered: