TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners are removing the red tape from the sometimes sticky public debates over zoning issues.
Last week, commissioners eliminated the requirement for people to file a so-called “request for oral argument” if they wanted to speak to the commission during public hearings concerning zoning decisions from land use hearing officers.
The defunct provision allowed only a 10-day window to file the necessary paperwork starting 15 days after the initial zoning hearing, but 18 calendar days before the county commission hearing.
“If you file it too early, like right after the first hearing — or too late, like anytime within the two weeks before the final hearing — you are not allowed to speak to your elected officials at a “public” hearing,” Commissioner Mariella Smith, who championed elimination of the rule, said in an email.
Deadlines were just part of the problem. Smith said the public had to obtain an instruction packet from the county, list one of four reasons why they wanted to speak at the hearing and write an essay about why the commission should approve the request to speak. The four permissible reasons were to: Resolve ambiguities in the record; argue a matter introduced into the record, but not addressed by the zoning hearing master; address a mistake in the hearing officer’s recommendation or request to add new evidence.
“It Is a huge barrier to pubic participation. It’s a convoluted maze of red tape...” that benefits seasoned land-use attorneys, not the general public, Smith said last week prior to the commission approving the change.
The only comment before the commission vote came from land use attorney Kami Corbett.
“I know I will personally be thrilled to never have to think about the deadline or the form again,” she said.
The commission approved the change 5-0 with Commissioners Gwen Myers and Ken Hagan absent.