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Large crowd doesn’t get to comment as town hall meeting planned instead

August 8, 2018

A potentially controversial issue drew a crowd of nearly 50 people to Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Norfolk Planning Commission, but the discussion was ended before it ever began.

The issue was a potential expansion of the Elkhorn River Overlay District, a special district that mainly oversees the aesthetics of buildings located along the river.

The proposed expansion would add areas adjacent to the river north from its northern boundaries at Elm Street up to Benjamin Avenue and slightly beyond. It also would expand the southern and eastern boundaries from Phillip Avenue southeast along the river’s path to Michigan Avenue and Chestnut Street.

The item was one of the last on Tuesday morning’s agenda, and Dan Spray, who presides over the commission’s meetings as its chairman, said to those attending that he was aware that residents would have many questions and concerns.

“There are many substantial questions, and I’m not sure those here today could properly address them all,” Spray said.

He proposed canceling the public hearing, and said the city should instead work toward establishing a town hall meeting to answer the public’s questions.

The other planning commissioners agreed, and ultimately the public hearing was canceled.

Given the public didn’t get an opportunity to offer any comments at Tuesday’s meeting, several could be heard criticizing the motion and subsequent decision by the commission as several dozen people filed out of the meeting chambers.

In other business, the commission unanimously approved recommending an amendment to city code that would shift some of the city’s responsibilities to a new department: the Planning and Zoning Department.

Andy Colvin, city administrator, spoke to the commission about the proposed changes. The main change would be that building inspections would be overseen by the new department that will be headed by zoning administrator Valerie Grimes, while the current prevention bureau is discontinued.

“No one has done anything wrong, and the Fire Division has been very cooperative with this change,” Colvin said. “This is making things more efficient for city staff and the community.”

Spray agreed with Colvin’s assessment, saying that it will be good to simplify things.

“It’ll put everything under one roof,” Spray said.

The commission also took care of some other regular business: commissioners approved a conditional-use permit for a greenhouse, ordered city staff members to prepare a conditional-use permit for an oversized building and approved one preliminary plat and three final plats.

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