A Citizens Guide to Participating
Participating in Planning Commission Public Hearings
Have you seen a blue rezoning sign in your neighborhood? Have you received a notice of an upcoming public hearing? Are you interested in learning more about projects being proposed in Henrico County? Then this Guide is for you.
- What kind of proposals need a public hearing?
- How will I know that development is being proposed?
- How can I find out what is going on with a particular case?
- How are cases reviewed?
- How do I participate?
- What is the public hearing like?
- Are there special considerations for religious uses?
What kind of development needs a public hearing?
In Henrico County, three general categories of development proposals require a public hearing. These are:
- Provisional Use Permits
- Plans of Development
Depending on the proposal, a project may have to go through several public hearings before construction can begin. Please note that we are only talking about private sector development proposals. Projects undertaken by the County, State, or Federal Government, such as roads, state office buildings, and post offices, go through a different process. The Board of Zoning Appeals holds public hearings on variances, use permits, and certain other requests.
A Rezoning is necessary when a person, partnership, or private company (“the applicant”) wants to change the zoning of a particular piece of land. The applicant must either own the land or be specifically authorized by the owner to request the change in zoning. All land in Henrico County is zoned for either industrial, business, office, residential, agricultural, institutional, or conservation use.
The Provisional Use Permit (PUP) procedure provides for certain uses which cannot be well adjusted to their environment in particular occasions with full protection offered to surrounding properties by rigid application of the distriction regulations. Most telecommunication towers require a PUP. Sec. 24-122.1 sets forth guides and standards for the approval of provisional use permits. Specific uses are allowed by PUP in specific districts.
A Plan of Development (POD) is a multi-phase process during which the applicant submits drawings of a property depicting building layout, water and sewer lines, roads, drainage, landscaping, and other necessary improvements. A POD is generally required for all projects that entail disturbing more than 2500 square feet (e.g., 50′x50′) of land area. Under certain circumstances, other projects may be required to go through the POD process as well; see Sec. 24-106(b) of the County Code. All phases of the POD process include a public hearing before the Planning Commission, unless the change is so minor that administrative approval is possible.
How will I know that a case is coming up for public hearing? Rezonings and Provisional Use Permits
Cases scheduled for public hearing are advertised in the Richmond Times-Dispatch 2 weeks and 3 weeks before the hearing date. The ads appear on Mondays, in a location determined by the newspaper. Deferred or rescheduled cases usually do not appear in the newspaper advertisement.
Approximately 2 weeks before the public hearing, the Planning Department posts the familiar blue rezoning signs on the property as a courtesy to the public. The same type of sign is posted for Provisional Use Permits.
Also, approximately two weeks before the hearing, the Planning Department sends notices to adjacent property owners only. As a courtesy, notices are also sometimes sent to some homeowners’ and civic associations.
You can view the agendas for the Planning Commission meetings on the Planning Department web site.
If you plan to attend the public hearing, you may wish to call the Planning Department (804-501-4602) to make sure that your case is still scheduled for hearing. An applicant may request a deferral of the public hearing any time up to the hearing. Early in the meeting, the Planning Commission decides on a case-by-case basis whether to grant a request for deferral.
Plans of Development, Landscape Plans, and Subdivisions
Notices are sent to adjacent property owners only. These requests are not advertised, and signs are not posted.
Again, if you plan to attend the public hearing, you may wish to call the Planning Department (804-501-4602) to make sure that your case is still scheduled for hearing. An applicant may request a deferral of the public hearing any time up to the hearing. Early in the meeting, the Planning Commission decides on a case-by-case basis whether to grant a request for deferral.
How can I find out what is going on with a particular case?
You can call (804) 501-4602 or send e-mail to the Planning Department to find out the name of the planner that is processing the case. You may also wish to find out the case number, and the name of the applicant. You should make staff aware of any concerns that you may have, although doing so is no substitute for speaking at the public hearing. Individuals are encouraged to work with their homeowners’ or civic association, if one exists, to resolve issues with the applicant. The County does not require applicants to meet with citizens groups before the public hearing, but strongly advises them to do so. Often, the Planning Commission will not make a decision on a case until the applicant has made a good faith effort to resolve issues with residents.
The Planning Department staff is available to talk to residents about the status of pending cases.
How are cases reviewed? Rezonings and Provisional Use Permits
The Planning Department accepts rezoning and PUP applications once a month on a given submission deadline. Within the first week after acceptance, staff reviews each application for completeness, case information is sent to several review agencies (to review for impact on schools, utilities, roads, etc.), and cases are assigned to individual planners. The case planners have roughly two weeks to review the proposal, get input from staff and review agencies, and formulate a recommendation to the Planning Commission. The recommendation is forwarded to the Planning Commission by way of a staff report, dispatched approximately two weeks before the public hearing date.
The staff review is relatively technical in nature, relying on existing conditions, zoning regulations, the 2010 Land Use Plan, and any other known policy guidance to determine whether a request is appropriate. Staff is advisory to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission, in turn, is advisory to the Board of Supervisors. The Board makes the final decision on any rezoning or PUP request. Both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors hold a public hearing on each request. The public is encouraged to attend and participate in these hearings.
Plans of Development, Landscape Plans, and Subdivisions
The role of staff in the review process for Plans of Development, Landscape Plans, and Subdivisions is similar. Staff makes a recommendation to the Planning Commission, but then the Planning Commission makes the final decision. Plans of Development, Landscape Plans, and Subdivisions do not generally go the Board of Supervisors for approval.
How do I participate?
As noted above, you can discuss your concerns with the case planner early on in the process. The planner may advise you to contact the applicant and/or the Planning Commissioner for your area. Some applicants have community meetings in an attempt to resolve issues before the public hearings. If you plan to oppose some aspect or all of a proposal, you should make the applicant aware of your concerns as early as possible.
There are also at least two public hearings on every rezoning and PUP, one with the Planning Commission, and one with the Board of Supervisors. At the Planning Commission public hearing on rezonings and PUPs, both the applicant and the opposition have a total of ten minutes to speak on the request. Time spent answering questions by Commission members is not counted towards the total. At the Board of Supervisors public hearing, there is usually no time limit.
There is at least one public hearing on every Plan of Development. At the present time, there is no time limit on presentations.
The Planning Commission public hearing meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. The meetings always follow the same format, although occasionally additional items will be included. Following the call to order and roll call of Commission members, the Chairman asks staff if any requests for deferral have been submitted. Each deferral is considered individually.
- Staff summarizes the application, and explains why and for how long the applicant wants a deferral.
- The Chairman of the Planning Commission asks if anyone in the audience opposes the deferral of the case. This is an opportunity for you to object to the deferral of the case only, not the substance of the application. If you object, you should come to the microphone, state your name and address, and explain why you object to the deferral.
- Considering any comments from the public, the Planning Commission then votes whether to grant the request for the deferral. If your case is deferred at this time, it will not come up for any further discussion over the course of the meeting.
- After the deferrals are considered, the Chairman then asks the Secretary to call each of the cases in order.
- The Secretary reads the case summary from the agenda.
- The Chairman asks if anyone in the audience is in opposition to the case. If you plan to speak in opposition to the case, raise your hand or otherwise make yourself known to the Chairman. Your opportunity to speak will come later.
- The staff makes a presentation on the case first, answering any questions of the Planning Commission.
- The applicant then makes a presentation on the case, also answering any questions of the Planning Commission. The applicant may reserve a portion of the allocated ten minutes for rebuttal.
- The opposition then gets an opportunity to speak. You must identify yourself and give your home address. If you have any questions of the developer, direct the question to the Chairman. At his or her discretion, the Chairman will later ask the applicant to answer the question. Individual Planning Commissioners may have questions for you before you leave the podium.
- The applicant then speaks in rebuttal, or answers any additional questions.
- The Planning Commission may continue to discuss the matter before taking a vote. The Planning Commission may vote to recommend denial, approval, or deferral.
- Cases recommended for approval or denial are scheduled for public hearing with the Board of Supervisors the following month.
Plans of Development, Landscape Plans, and Subdivisions
The process is the same as for rezonings and provisional use permits, except that there are no time limits on presentations, and instead of voting to recommend approval or denial, the Commission can vote to approve or deny. The Commission can also defer the request.
Are there special considerations for religious uses?
Yes. The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) prohibits zoning laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches or other religious assemblies or institutions unless implementation of such laws is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. In addition, RLUIPA prohibits zoning laws that (1) treat churches or other religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms with nonreligious institutions; (2) discriminate against any assemblies or institutions on the basis of religion or religious denomination; (3) totally exclude religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or (4) unreasonably limit religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.