Thursday, November 19, 2009

Public Notices

I have written about notices before, the ones that are required to me mailed to neighbors within a 200 foot radius of a property that is planning new construction or renovation. And so this might be a bit repetitive. But the topic has come up lately relative to some work in the Rosko Drive area and I feel inclined to weigh-in with my thoughts on the subject of notices in general.

Many times when I am attending an ARB meeting I will hear a neighbor say they didn’t receive a notice. In this case, one of two things most likely occurred. First, they could have thrown it away because it looked like junk mail. It absolutely can and often does. Any of you who have received one know this to be true. I have scanned one I received in the past to show you here. The literal requirement is as follows: (116-32 D)”With respect to applications which involve a public hearing, the Board shall cause a public notice of such hearing to be published once in the official newspaper at least 10 days prior to the hearing date, and the applicant shall cause a copy of such notice to be mailed to all property owners within 200 feet of the subject premises, as shown on the latest completed tax roll, measured along the frontage on both sides of the street, and to all other property owners located within 200 feet of the boundaries of the premises, by ordinary mail at least 10 days prior to the hearing date. The applicant shall submit proof of such mailing." So, in essence, you could receive a plain white envelope with your name typed on it and no return address and just throw it away thinking it’s junk. Or, if you’re curiosity gets the better of you, you could open it and find a very generic piece of paper with the legal notice typed in all capital letters and nothing else included explaining what it is that you’ve actually received. Some architects and lawyers (agents for the owners) will mail the notice in an envelope that shows their letterhead and accompany the notice with a cover letter of their own explaining the project, how one can look at the proposed drawings, what to do if one has concerns about the project, etc. But that is very rare. Most people would never bother to actually solicit complaints and hope to just slide quickly through the ARB process without any bother from the board or the neighbors. And many are successful at doing just that.

Second, they could have been outside the 200 foot radius. This is very likely also. Folks, 200 feet is not that far. The intention of the 200 feet is just to notify the immediately adjacent neighbors: that’s four. The rest of you don’t matter, not on the same street or anywhere else in the village – or that’s the way it seems anyway. I believe more residents should be notified. The amount of neighbors that receive notices is directly related to the size of their property. The bigger the property, the fewer the notices. So the wealthier you are, the easier you have it? I believe either a formula should be derived so that the radius is determined by the lot size, and so that a proportionate amount of residents are notified when new work is proposed regardless of zoning district, or the radius rule should be abandoned and replaced by a requirement that every person owning property on the street where the work will occur shall receive a notice, whether the street is the length of Henry Street or Halsey Neck Lane.

What about those persons within the 200 foot radius that still didn’t receive a notice? Sorry. I’ve asked that question and was told it’s impossible to prove, even if true. Leaving the neighbor powerless and without any recourse. As far as the Village is concerned, they are doing their job. They receive affidavits of mailing and posting (the sign on the property advertising the hearing) and that’s all that’s required of them.

People love mail! Even more so now because, thanks to email, real mail is usually bills. To receive a card or letter is joyous! I believe there should be a lot more detail in the endeavor of sending notices. They should be sent certified, in an envelope with the subject property owner’s name and return address, should include small copies of the proposed site plan and elevations of the project, and most importantly should include instructions on how to see proposed drawings and what to do if they have concerns. These few changes would invite more public participation into the whole ARB process and help to ensure that new work appears compatible within our historic village. And it would be neighborly too!

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