Commission adopts new rules for community groups, hearings to come

The Planning Commission has adopted a new set of departmental regulations governing the conduct of Registered Community Organizations (RCOs), and expects to hold a public hearing on the new rules sometime in the next few months.

The new regulations—which don’t have the weight of law, but are only meant to implement the rules laid out in the zoning code—are an outgrowth of the Commission’s own experience working with RCOs and of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s request for a “code of conduct” for the community groups to follow. The Commission discussed the regulations and heard from witnesses at length at its March meeting.

Since the last meeting, the Planning Commission held two “listening sessions” with community groups around the city to solicit suggestions for updating the regulations. Eleanor Sharpe, the Commission’s deputy director, and Mason Austin, the RCO coordinator, said they were only able to consider recommendations that would work within the existing zoning code. The regulations can’t change the timeline for meetings or bar political wards from registering as RCOs, for example, because those things are determined in the code.

With that in mind, the Commission considered a number of changes to the regulations, which can be reviewed here. Among them:

  • The Commission can suspend or revoke an RCO’s registration if the group is found to have provided false information on its application.
  • After holding a public meeting on a zoning application, an RCO must submit a “meeting summary form” to the Planning Commission at least two days in advance of a hearing at the Zoning Board of Adjustment. (Previous regulations required groups to submit the forms within seven days after the meeting took place.)
  • RCOs must abide by the Commission’s regulations, and can’t attempt to add any additional requirements for zoning applicants as a condition for doing so.
  • Community Benefits Agreements are allowed, but RCOs can’t withhold their compliance with regulations as a way to get such an agreement.
  • The Commission may request that the terms of a Community Benefits Agreement be disclosed to the Office of the Inspector General.
  • RCOs must perform their duties without discriminating against applicants or other participants on the basis of race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
  • RCOs may have their registration revoked if they fail to respond to applicants, or to coordinate meetings, or to publicize those meetings, or to submit meeting summary forms, or if they are found to have acted in a discriminatory manner.
  • All decisions to suspend an RCO are the Executive Director’s discretion.
  • Suspended RCOs may appeal their suspension at a meeting of the Planning Commission.

The Commission voted unanimously to adopt the new regulations. Per the terms of the Home Rule Charter, anyone may now request a public hearing on the proposed regulations during the next thirty days. The Planning Commission, which had some such requests after adopting other regulation updates last month, expects to receive a request for a hearing on the new RCO regulations and hold a combined hearing on all the new regulations soon.

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