Dayton changes priority board rules

Critics worry about loss of engaged committee members.

Dayton commissioners voted 4-1 to change and consolidate the city’s priority land use boards, which supporters said will improve interactions between the city and neighborhood associations.

The city has seven priority boards that each also have a land use committee. The city is reducing the number of committees to five, redrawing the boundaries of their coverage areas and changing how committee members are selected, said Aaron Sorrell, the city’s director of planning and community development.

But critics said they are concerned the changes will result in the loss of some highly engaged and effective board members.

“Citizen engagement is the lifeblood of this democracy, and to pass a proposal that knocks some people off the priority board and invites others to join is awkward to me,” said Dayton Commissioner Dean Lovelace, who last week cast the sole dissenting vote against the restructuring.

Under the old system, priority board members selected who would serve on land use committees, and often priority board members were the committee members. Priority board members are generally elected by voters who live in their voting precincts or are members of neighborhood and business associations.

But soon, land use boards will be separated from priority boards and will consist of 11 members that are elected by neighborhood and business associations and chosen by Dayton city commissioners.

“You would not have to win any election or any kind of special process in order to be nominated in the new process,” said Amy Riegel, Dayton’s community development manager. “In the old process, you would have to had to run as your precinct rep for the priority board, and once you were elected and on the priority board, from that group of people they chose who could be on the land use committees.”

The new selection process means that land use boards will not be impacted when the state redraws voting districts, which can change the political make up of the priority boards and who they appoint members of the land use committees, officials said.

The new system also creates a more direct relationship between the city and representatives from its neighborhoods, Sorrell said. All current priority land use board members will remain in their seats through December 2014.

Land use boards provide recommendations to the City Plan Board, the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Landmarks Commission. They are responsible for addressing conditional use requests, neighborhood and citywide plans, variances, zoning changes, liquor permits, alley and street vacations and zoning text amendments.

The area covered by land use boards is also changing to provide a better balance of caseloads and population, officials said.

“We wanted the areas to have similar populations,” said Tim Riordan, Dayton’s city manager. “Some of the priority boards were very small and some were very big.”

Innerwest and Southwest would be combined, and so would Northwest and Fair River Oaks Council (FROC).

The area covered by the downtown land use board would expand to include University Park by the University of Dayton and the South Park and Oregon districts. The boundary line separating the Southeast and Northeast areas would eventually become U.S. 35.

But the city’s proposal makes drastic changes to the priority board system even though some boards were effective at addressing issues in their neighborhoods, said Kevin Jones, chair of the Fair River Oaks Council priority board.

The city’s decision to combine land use boards could be problematic, especially if one neighborhood or area ends up being overrepresented or underrepresented, he said.

“If the majority of the people on the committee are FROC residents, and the issue is about something at Gettysburg and Cornell (streets), it would be a lesser concern to (them),” Jones said. “I think the intention is good, but I think the final outcome will not be as successful as they intend.”

The new system will not not stop city commissioners from electing land use board members based on political and social considerations, he said.

The priority board system had problems, but the changes approved by commissioners will get rid of some valuable and engaged members of the community, said Lovelace, who served on the Northwest priority board decades ago.

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