By Rick Smeriglio for SCN –
Seward city code specifies a seven-member Planning and Zoning Commission with four needed for a quorum, but Seward currently has only four members in total and this causes problems, said Assistant City Manager Ron Long at a recent City Council Meeting. P & Z Commission Chair Cindy Ecklund agrees. After having canceled its last meeting in July and then canceling its next meeting in August for lack of quorum, Seward P & Z Commission met on July 15 with all four members present and therefore had a scant quorum to conduct business. The commission dispatched its routine business and then tasked itself with solving the larger problem of making a “successful P&Z Commission“. The commission intends to explore options for recommending changes to city code that would enable a smaller quorum.
As an example of a problem caused by lack of quorum and consequent inability to conduct business, Ecklund cited the recent case of property owners Matt and Kelly Eagleton of Anchorage who needed approval to re-plat their three city lots into one. The Eagletons have a residence and an outbuilding on three adjacent city lots in the original Seward townsite on Sixth Avenue between Monroe and A streets. Mr. Eagleton came to a commission meeting on July 7 to make a presentation, but the commission lacked quorum and so could not act officially.
Said Eagleton about his attempt to present his case, “I was disappointed [in the lack of quorum]. It’s just a simple re-plat. We just want to keep the duplex in our family and have a place to keep the boat. I guess it was ok, the commission had all my stuff in its packet and I was totally prepared to answer any questions. We ended up just talking about life in Seward.”
In a written communication to Seward Chamber of Commerce, Assistant City Manager Ron Long said, “When we can’t conduct our regular business, property owners are denied the right to a timely process and lose valuable construction and development windows of opportunity. Not having an effective and efficient P & Z Commission presents a huge roadblock to our economic development efforts.”
Commission Chair Ecklund cited the requirement to file paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission as a possible reason why Sewardites don’t volunteer for the P & Z Commission. In the past she said, financial disclosures went online for public notice. Now, however, that information stays on paper in the City Clerk’s Office and remains accessible only there according to City Planner, Donna Glenz. City code also requires commissioners to live within city limits. This requirement led to the recent resignation of Commissioner Bixler McClure, which brought the number of commissioners down to four.
When asked why anyone should volunteer for city boards and commissions, Ecklund responded with clarity and conviction.
“Because this is America! We have government by the people; this commission is the people. We’re neighbors, teachers, business owners. We don’t represent ourselves. We represent the community, [not the government],” she said.
The P & Z Commission advises City Council in various aspects of civic life including city zoning code and variances to it, subdivision and development proposals, easements and rights-of-way and their vacation, land use including flood plains and has other duties as requested by City Council. The commission advises the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission in similar fashion. Currently, the commission has three vacancies.
Said recently-elected Commission Vice-Chair Martha Flemming about vacancies on the commission, “We don’t always want to be begging.”
After having assembled a quorum of four, and hearing no testimony against the proposal, the commission officially recommended approval on July 15 of the Eagleton re-plat request.
When contacted by phone at home, Matt Eagleton responded, “That’s awesome.”