There wasn’t any debate among Fredericksburg City Council members that the terms of Planning Commission members should be staggered to avoid the seven-member panel turning over at one time.
But council members had a harder time deciding how many Planning Commission members should be required to own property in the city as they tried to bring the city code more in line with state law, which requires at least half the members of such boards to own real estate.
Councilman Billy Withers, Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and Councilwoman Kerry Devine initially favored requiring at least five of the seven commissioners to be property owners. But after debating the issue, the council voted 5–1 earlier this month to set the minimum number of property owners at four.
Withers cast the lone vote against the lower number (Devine had technical difficulties during the remote meeting and was unable to vote), saying he thought the panel needs more property owners.
“Quite frankly, I’d rather it had been 6–1,” Withers said of the property owner rule. “But I’m willing to go 5–2, thinking that is reasonable.”
Withers said property owners have “a little more skin in the game,” than renters or other residents. But others on the council didn’t see it that way.
Councilman Matt Kelly reminded his peers that most of the residents in the city are renters and not land owners. Councilman Chuck Frye Jr. said a requirement for a supermajority of property owners might preclude a recent college graduate or another young bright mind from participating.
Councilman Jason Graham made it clear from the start he would not support Withers’ motion because of “a basic issue of fairness.”
“Whether or not you’re financially fortunate enough to own a home should not have any impact on your ability to serve the community in which you live,” Graham said.
The Planning Commission is an appointed body that serves as an advisory board to the City Council on issues and policies related to planning, land use and community development. It makes recommendations, but the council has the final say on most zoning and land-use matters.
Graham noted that the city has a shortage of affordable homes and housing prices will continue to rise. He also noted that Withers’ proposal was “above and beyond” what the state asks for.
“I don’t think it is right to try to discriminate in such an obvious manner,” Graham said.
Greenlaw said she doesn’t believe Withers’ motion precluded anyone, because renters and other city residents would still be allowed to serve on the Planning Commission.
Kelly noted that the city is required to follow state law by having a majority of commission members be property owners, but said a 5–2 split would be giving one group much more authority than another.
“I think to say it’s got to be more one side than the other, you are restricting participation in the process,” Kelly said.
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526
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