As Jared Brey explains, Registered Community Organization status gets you diddly squat. You get notices for zoning change applications, and you get a meeting with the project developer. That’s it.
A recent Jannie Blackwell joint loosened the new zoning code’s rules for what types of groups qualify for RCO status and the process that birthed turned out to be unwieldy enough that Council is now exploring a fix. But as Jared reports, the fragile consensus about RCOs has broken down, and returning to the system envisioned by the new zoning code doesn’t appear to be an option.
There are lots of unanswered questions going forward, so let’s try to answer some of them.
Should Registered Community Organizations exist at all?
Yes. In the bad old days, fly-by-night groups that popped up expressly for the purpose of opposing one project or another had too easy a time getting those projects shut down, making the development process too political and unpredictable. It’s still too political and unpredictable (namely because the stingy 38-foot height limit for by-right projects in most neighborhoods is a variance generator) but at least now, the white hot opposition from the nearest neighbors gets cooled a bit by having to participate in a formal process, under the banner of longer-running, broader-interest community organizations that deal with more issues than just zoning. This is a good compromise between encouraging public participation and feedback to make projects better, and dulling the influence of the sort of NIMBY politics that just wants to see projects get spiked.
What types of groups should qualify as Registered Community Organizations?
Multi-issue civic associations. I used to like the idea of single-issue civic associations becoming RCOs, but friend of the blog Tim Potens offered some persuasive points against that idea that changed my mind about it. Since RCO status doesn’t get you much, there’s no real reason groups like the Bike Coalition and others with broad geographic and narrow issue interests can’t show up to meetings and say their piece.
Should the Planning Commission take over the responsibility of notifying community groups when developers propose projects in their neighborhoods?
Yes, but! Can’t the notification requirement be fulfilled by simply posting these notices on the Planning Commission website? How hard would it be to just send out an email each week with all the newest zoning applications that have come in, broken down by neighborhood or ward or RCO district? If we wanted to get really fancy with it, maybe people could sign up to only receive alerts about particular neighborhoods?
Should that responsibility fall to District Council members?
Should issue-based RCOs—those that don’t deal with neighborhood-specific zoning issues—receive notification of every zoning application? Should they be removed from the zoning code altogether?
I don’t like this business of only alerting some groups. Let’s send out a weekly email of zoning applications to everyone who signs up for the email list. Let’s send out that email to me, because I’m going to be writing about this stuff more for a couple different real estate news sites.
When a project falls within multiple RCO boundaries, should the developer be allowed to pick which group convenes the meeting of all the groups?
I like this idea, but have a feeling it would be unpopular with most people. If every RCO gets to participate in the meeting, and we’re alerting everyone properly, I don’t see why it would actually matter which group convenes the meeting.
What is the minimum and maximum number of meetings that should be required between developers and RCOs prior to a zoning board hearing, and should District Council members get to decide how many meetings is enough? Councilman Henon said after the hearing that he hopes to change the text of the bill so it says that “at least one meeting” is required.
One meeting should be required, and I could live with two being required. What we definitely don’t want is to leave it up to District Council members’ discretion to determine how many meetings there should be.