The Federal Way City council unanimously approved the 2014 Planning Commission work plan on Feb. 18, adding two items for the Planning Commission to consider developing a specific zoning regulation for mobile/manufactured home parks and an ordinance for historic designations in the city.
And while there was agreement on the work plan and how it should be prioritized, Councilmember Susan Honda made it clear that she hopes to see the work plan process become more efficient this year.
“The work plan, for the Planning Commission, to me, is very frustrating to me,” Honda said. “I’ve watched it … this is my third year, and things just don’t move. I realize we have an issue with staff, but last year the Planning Commission met four times. If I was on the Planning Commission, I would be frustrated as a volunteer citizen because I’ve agreed to meet twice a month, and yet they only met four times last year.”
Honda said the act of continuing to pass the work plan without seeing anything being done adds to her sense of frustration.
“I’m so frustrated with this work plan, I don’t even understand. Unless we can get some of these things done, besides the things that are mandatory, why we continue to pass these things on, year after year, because they’re just not moving … They’re just being stagnant,” she said. “I think we owe it to our citizens that we start moving a little faster.”
Mayor Jim Ferrell asked Director of Community and Economic Development Patrick Doherty why the Planning Commission had met so infrequently last year. Doherty said it was a combination of issues, among them staffing levels and an increased volume of work for city staff.
“The last budget cutbacks were four years ago or so, so with the remaining staff, during the recessionary years, because the (work) volume was lower, some folks … could be reassigned to help … work on code amendments and Comprehensive Plan updates,” Doherty said. “Last year, as (work) volumes skyrocketed, we had to take people off of (the Comprehensive Plan work) to keep up with permit volumes.”
Doherty also indicated the Planning Commission is only really needed to meet when there is something to review/discuss, etc., and that if that need isn’t there, then there isn’t a need for the group to meet. He said internally, the city has been looking at increasing staffing levels to help with some of these issues.
“We’ve been discussing internally a proposal for bringing back additional staff … We’re talking internally about that and coming back to the Council with proposals to address that need, so we can not only have quick turnaround in the permit review (process), but also be more aggressive in these code amendments and other requirements from the Comprehensive Plan,” Doherty said.
Councilmember Dini Duclos echoed the call to get staffing levels back to some approximation of where they were before the economic downturn.
“Things have recovered, as has our financial situation, and I think it’s time to look at how much work we’re dumping on people, and how much stuff we have clogging up the pipeline,” she said, “because there are things here that need to be acted on … As chair of FEDRAC (Finance, Economic Development, and Regional Affairs Committee), I know our financial situation has improved greatly, and I think we could look at hiring a few more people, and I think the mayor realizes that also.”
Deputy Mayor Jeanne Burbidge added she was pleased this discussion was taking place, and hoped it meant more work would be getting done that helps citizens address their needs and issues.
“I appreciate this important conversation we’ve been having. To me it represents something very positive, because we’re moving forward. This is an intersection of some events that are very important to our future. Things are moving along, we have a lot more activity, and we need to respond to the demand for staff,” she said.