Your Views: Suspend all land use meetings during COVID-19 crisis

Your Views: Suspend all land use meetings during COVID-19 crisis
(Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

To the editor:

The following is an open letter to Mayor Justin Wilson, members of city council and City Manager Mark Jinks:

We would like to formally request that the city temporarily suspend all commission and board meetings, public hearings and council votes that relate to land use and zoning matters that need resident input until Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay at home order is lifted and meetings can be held in a normal fashion.

While we understand that the city wants to go forward with as much of a business-as-usual attitude as possible, this is far from a normal time. We believe this is not the time to expect that residents can or should focus on keeping up with the ever-changing schedule of meetings and postponements in order to have meaningful input into decisions.

Meetings are posted on the city website – but are being cancelled or changed in format to virtual meetings, which most would agree are not nearly as effective as face-to-face meetings. Some residents do not have the connections necessary to participate in such technology-driven forums. It is hard for citizens to monitor this ever-changing status of meetings.

During this COVID-19 lockdown, city meetings should be confined to the difficult budget decisions that now face city staff, council and our residents, or other vital matters that have a demonstrable time deadline that cannot be relaxed.

Recently, two virtual meetings or requests for online community engagement were held regarding major development projects in the city. These were the Galena Partners development of the surface parking lots in the 900 block of King Street, which the city sold last year, and the development plans for the large Inova HealthPlex at Oakville Triangle.

While we recognize that these efforts show creativity in outreach to the public, the timing of these efforts is inappropriate. Neither of these projects should be considered an emergency requiring immediate action. Efforts to solicit meaningful public engagement by the city or private entities should be suspended. 

At this time of crisis, residents are dealing with the loss of jobs, long-term economic instability, the need to educate their children at home and the real health dangers posed to every American requiring physical isolation and disruption of normal life. 

The anxiety and concern in our community is palpable, and we should not expect volunteer citizen boards, civic associations and out council members to meet and give proper attention to matters beyond the serious economic and health challenges that lie immediately in front of us. Other matters can wait a few weeks or months without detriment to our city.

The undersigned civic associations urge the city manager and council to formally postpone all city meetings relating to matters that do not involve the health crisis and budget decisions until all residents and council members can once again work together to make thoughtful decisions about the future of our city.

-Brookville Seminary Valley Civic Association, Old Town Civic Association, Parkside Condominium Association, Seminary Civic Association, Seminary Hill Association, Seminary Ridge Civic Association, Seminary West Civic Association, Strawberry Hill Civic Association, Taylor Run Civic Association, Wakefield Tarleton Civic Association