Moscow-Pullman Daily News op-ed: “Put the public back in NSA College public hearing”

Tina Hilding wrote today’s op-ed for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News; she also wrote & filed this appeal with the Moscow City Council. Council affirmed denied her appeal along with three others, which was a procedural move that had profound legal ramifications. This piece is as well written as her appeal, though I suspect it will fall on deaf ears.

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HER VIEW

Moscow-Pullman Daily News op-ed, July 12, 2017Put the public back in NSA College public hearing

By Tina Hilding

There has been much news lately about the importance of public process. Moscow prides itself on encouraging civil engagement and participation.

So, why would the city have a public hearing with no public input?

Yes, you read that correctly. A public hearing in front of the city’s Board of Adjustment is set for Tuesday — with no public input allowed.

I am not an expert rabble rouser. As a regular citizen, I wanted to express my concern about a proposed conditional use permit for the former CJs property. There is a lot of concern in this community for the proposal and its impact on downtown as was noted by large attendance at the appeal hearing before the City Council.

There were an unprecedented five separate appeals to the CUP — it reminded me of those football plays when all the whistles blow and referees are throwing penalty flags.

My biggest concern, as outlined in my appeal, was that the cumulative impacts of a new educational institution in the downtown business district had not been adequately considered by the Board of Adjustment. The city’s comprehensive plan calls for commercial uses downtown. Educational uses were never permitted in the central business district until New Saint Andrews College received a CUP five years after it bought its downtown property, and it was limited to 200 students. Now, they want to increase to 500.

I have concerns about the project’s impacts and about keeping a thriving and healthy downtown that is critical for our community’s economy.

I had 10 days to prepare an appeal. I was not allowed to introduce new information but had to argue that the board did not have enough information to make their decision. This is tricky, and I worked many hours on my appeal.

I, like four others, paid $220 to appeal. Perhaps other people couldn’t afford such steep appellant fees.

All of the appellants respectfully followed council rules throughout the intimidating process. I prepared for speaking and to answer possible questions, as I had been told to.

But, the council didn’t ask me or any of the appellants any questions.

The council was supposed to consider each appeal separately. They discussed the first appeal extensively and remanded it to the Board of Adjustment.

They then spent a total of six minutes discussing the next four appeals. There was virtually no discussion on any of them — although they were significantly different from each other and although each of the appellants had put considerable effort into them. As an appellant who shelled out $220, I felt a little short-changed.

At the meeting’s end, the community development director announced that the council’s remand instructions would be finalized and a public hearing would be set.

I understood that testimony at the public hearing would focus on issues that the council had remanded and felt had not been adequately considered by the board — parking, the cumulative impacts of the project and whether it met the standards of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Then, on June 19, I learned that no public input would be allowed.

What? I have never found a description of a public hearing that doesn’t include the public. The city’s own website says that public hearings include public testimony.

Many people care deeply about this project’s impacts on our downtown community and businesses.

I am astonished at the treatment of concerned citizens throughout this process, and I cannot understand why the council would discourage engagement on a civic question important to so many.

Our City Council, mayor, and city staff are here to serve the public. It is incumbent upon them to correct this error and open the hearing to the public — as is required.

Tina Hilding, a member of the city’s Sustainable Environment Commission, has lived in Moscow for almost 20 years and is an active volunteer in the community.

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The CUP process, like most everything else in city hall, has strict guidelines. If you don’t know the rules before the game starts, then the odds are stacked against you for the remainder of the process. In this case, if citizens didn’t introduce evidence during the original BOA hearing, then the court (either the BOA or Council) has broad latitude to decide if they will allow new evidence into their respective hearings. For example, suppose someone discovered that the Greyfriars Hall holds class in the CBD and they want the BOA or City Council to weigh this fact in light of NSA’s CUP. The BOA and Council can say yes or no on a whim and they have no legal obligation to account for their decision. Of course this isn’t fair — but that’s why they say, “You can’t fight city hall.”

Or in this case, the creep wins.

2 Comments

  1. A truly thoughtful and compassionate Christian leader would look at the public response and re-consider the CUP request; after all, what use is winning the permit battle with the Board of Adjustment when in one fell swoop you have alienated a significant portion of the community you claim you want to minister to? Why not look and build elsewhere and thereby demonstrate the message of the gospel through serving the community in humility.

    Again, that would be the response of a thoughtful, compassionate, Christian leader.

    1. “What use is winning the permit battle with the Board of Adjustment when in one fell swoop you have alienated a significant portion of the community you claim you want to minister to?”

      Exactly right — except for “you claim you want to minister to.” He no longer makes this claim and the evidence suggests that he intends to antagonize the community as payback for the 2004 History Conference, which we have not addressed.

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