Centennial City Council loosens public comment rules amid pandemic

Change comes as SouthGlenn redevelopment proposal may be submitted soon


With public meetings and votes by city officials likely to take place in the coming months about redevelopment at The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall, the Centennial City Council voted to allow the public to submit comments through emails and voicemails ahead of certain public hearings rather than needing to show up in person.

Earlier changes to city council policy amid the pandemic allowed the council and certain other city bodies to participate remotely in public meetings during emergencies, according to a city staff report.

Those changes also related to public hearings and decisions taking place during meetings via videoconferencing. A public hearing is an official meeting where members of the public hear facts about a proposal — such as a possible housing or commercial development — and give their opinions to the city council or other board before city officials make a decision.

For example, the Centennial Planning and Zoning Commission — citizens who make development recommendations to city council — has voted on development plans and other matters at fully remote meetings. The topics the city has considered so far, however, have involved “non-controversial applications with minimal public input,” the city staff report says.

“That will not always be the case,” the report says.

At its Sept. 21 meeting, the city council voted unanimously, with Councilmember Kathy Turley absent, to allow the city manager to decide that the public's comments for certain public hearings may be submitted in advance. The city manager is Centennial's top non-elected, administrative official who implements policy decisions made by the council.

City staff thought the city should have “a more fluid process” for “more complex or controversial” public hearings, the staff report says.

The new process allows the “applicant” — a developer, in cases of new buildings — and the public to “pre-load” the hearing with evidence for the city council or other body to consider, the report says. The applicant would submit a presentation that the public could view and submit comments or questions about ahead of the hearing. The public's input would be available to the city council or other body.

The goal is to make public hearings more streamlined and ensure they proceed more smoothly, the report says.

Allison Wittern, city spokeswoman, said the city didn't see the change as necessary due to the upcoming public hearing on development at The Streets at SouthGlenn but, rather, generally due to “the current virtual environment we are in,” Wittern said.

Under the new policy, applicants must agree to allowing comments to be submitted before the hearings take place — meaning if the city manager chooses, the public hearing will not occur unless applicants agree to that process. Applicants also must submit their own documents before the hearing so the public can view them ahead of time.

The new policy allows the city manager to choose when public hearing comments may be submitted in advance, even during times when the council is meeting in person.  

Under the draft of the city manager's framework of how the policy will be applied, the city manager can consider the following matters to determine which hearings will use the new process:

• The complexity of the subject matter;

• The number of members of the public anticipated to participate in the hearing;

• The amount of information anticipated to be presented for consideration;

• The level of controversy surrounding the matter from the public or the press;

• The request of the applicant to hold the public hearing under the new process; and/or

• Whether advance availability of information would benefit the applicant and/or the public.

The city manager can consult informally with city council in advance when determining if a certain hearing will be heard through the new process, the draft framework says.


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