Monday, November 30, 2015

Skirmish over posting zoning apps online continues

The fight to put Jackson zoning applications online continues into another month.  Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote is trying to pass an ordinance that will require the city to post all zoning requests online.   However, the council delayed taking action as Mr. Foote was unable to attend and city officials wanted to water down his proposal.

Discussion starts at 29:00 in video. 

Mr. Foote wants the city to posts all zoning requests on its website.  The  posted request will include the zoning application, maps, and traffic engineering reports (if any exists.).  Posting online will make it convenient for citizens to find out what exactly is going on when they see those little white zoning hearing notices go up in their neighborhoods.  Current city policy requires someone to file a public records request and pay applicable fees before someone can actually see the application packet submitted to the city.

 Zoning Administrator Esther Ainsworth told the committee that she was willing to post the first page and the declaration page (of the zoning application) along with the notice of the hearing online.  She said someone could file a public records request for the rest of the information.  However, someone requesting the application and maps would have to wait up to fourteen business days and pay fees*.  

 The city submitted its counter-proposal to the committee only a few hours prior to the meeting.  That offer was made after it submitted another one even earlier that day. The earlier offer proposed posting the submitted application packet  when it posts a public notice of a zoning hearing online.  Planning & Development Director  Eric Jefferson said he did not want to post page 2 of the zoning application as it contained the contact information for the requester as well as possible trade secrets.

Mr. Foote attempted to call in to the meeting but was told that he had to give a five day notice in order to do so**.  Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr. said he was not comfortable moving forward when Mr. Foote was not present and the city waited until the last minute to submit its own proposal.

*For example, the city required this correspondent to pay $80 for a copy of the rezoning request made by Goodwill industries that is posted below.

**The Hinds County Board of Supervisors abolished this requirement a few years ago.  The city council should do so as well.

Kingfish note: The Goodwill industries zoning application posted below merely states on page two what the contact information is for the person or company making the request for rezoning, his representative, and the current property owner.  There are no trade secrets posted on this page.  It is strictly contact information that is provided to the public if a printed out copy of the application is requested.

The zoning department is clearly trying to avoid posting the applications online.  It has resisted Mr. Foote's proposal every step of the way.  Its counteroffer does not include maps or traffic engineering reports.  The city wants to keep forcing citizens to file public records requests, wait two to three weeks, and pay fees for merely trying to find out what is going on in their own neighborhoods.  Then there is the matter of timing.  The zoning notices are posted 15 calendar days prior to the hearing.  A citizen could file Ms. Ainsworth's precious public records request and get the records after the hearing took place. 

JJ reported on November 2:

 Mr. Foote said he wanted to post the submitted zoning applications online to reduce "the friction among the neighborhood associations" and create "less angst out there."  However, Ms. Ainsworth (11:30) said that if the information was posted online, that people could make "interpretations sometimes that are not correct." She also said "We don't want people to make abrupt decisions based on what staff recommends (included in the zoning application)."  She said they "may make an uninformed decision" based upon what information "is out there in terms whether they support or don't support (that zoning request)."  She said the zoning documents can be a really large file but Mr. Foote said "That's ok, the cloud is a really big place."  He said he would rather people complain because he voted the wrong way than complain they couldn't get a copy of the zoning request.

Ms. Ainsworth also said uploading completed zoning applications online would mean some proprietary or trade information might have to be redacted.  However, she failed to mention that such guidelines currently apply to those obtained through public records request..... Earlier post.
The committee is inclined to pass Mr. Foote's proposal.  The first counter-offer was good and achieve Mr. Foote's goals of transparency but the current one was junk as it keeps much relevant information about zoning requests from the people of Jackson. One can only wonder how many more excuses the zoning department will conjure up as Mr. Foote and his colleagues attempt to bring some sunlight to the zoning process in Jackson. 

Note: Here are two zoning applications submitted this year.  The request for the old Colonial Country Club site is a good example. Only pages six  and nine would be posted online.  Someone could only obtain the maps (pages 11-14, 22-27) and the traffic engineering report (page 27) through a public records request. 


Native Jacksonian said...

Scripps-Howard Newspapers had a motto emblazoned on their front pages: "Give light and people will find their own way." Sounds like we don't want any light to shine. Government knows best and will tell you what to do. Have we really come to this?

Anonymous said...

Are the fees generated by FOIA requests put in the general fund of the City, or are they absorbed by the Zoning Department?

Anonymous said...

Ainsworth reports to Mayor Phony Yarber. Phony could look his Zoning Czar employee in the eye and make the decision to support open government.

Phony Yarber is not the transparency advocate he purports himself to be.


Urban Gentrification 2023 said...

What happens when a "REAL" urban developer/investor buys 98.6% of the land parcels in a specific Jackson neighborhood for the sake of creating a Master-Planned Urban Development?


Anonymous said...

Such an development opportunity exists today. That would be Jacktroit's Ward 3.

Immediately accessible to the Medical Corridor, the State Capital, Midtown, Belhaven, FONDREN and the perpetually redeveloping forever burgeoning downtown scene.

Ward 3, with easy access to an airport, a pre-Marlin Perkins era Zoo, an Urban University, numerous murder spots and centrally located within minutes to all of Jacktroits raw sewage discharge sites.

Yes, welcome to Ward 3, the Master-Planned Urban Development of Jacktroit's future!

Anonymous said...


Went to Birmingham's website. It looks like they post the agenda with maps of each property. Is this what you want?

See the Nov. 10th agenda.

This seems easy to do. Someone should send to the city council.

Nineteen Foot Fence said...

I know that when Madison puts a sign on a property advising that a zoning change has been applied for, all one has to do is go to the mayor's office (or call) and you're told what's up. Is that not reasonable?

Since municipalities and counties have the obligation to advise the public of such requests, it seems a good idea to publish the application by whatever media-means is available and efficient. Who could be against that?

Anonymous said...

Who could be against that?

Mayor Phony Yarber. His anti-transparency actions speak volumes louder than his copious words otherwise.

Kingfish said...

Birmingham posts the maps. it is an improvement over what Jackson does. What do I want to do? See those applications I posted above? put them online. All of it. I can see redacting emails and phone numbers on page 2, but the rest of it? Post online.

Anonymous said...

Mobile, Ala., online applications right here. And have been for more than 10 years.

Anonymous said..., those aren't zoning applications, those are planning staff summary and recommendation reports. Big difference. Any idea how many days before the meeting that those are posted?

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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