Last night I had the interesting experience of chairing a portion of a meeting of the Lewes Planning Commission.
I've been a member of the commission for some time now. I have served as the Commission's Secretary. This spring, I was elected Vice-Chair.
Our Chair, Kay Carnahan, now works for a local real estate broker. Because her company has the applicant who was before the Planning Commission last night as a client, she recused herself. Responsibility for chairing the meeting fell to me.
This was a contentious application. It would be a small land use change, in comparison to all else that is going on around our town in the county, but it is almost in the center of town. Surrounding land owners object to the subdivision, at least in part because it would change the views of the Canal and waterfront hat they now enjoy. I understand why they would oppose the subdivision on those grounds. They also have concerns about drainage, which we share, though our engineers, and the local soil conservation office (which has jurisdiction over drainage), have approved of the project.
In the end, we voted to forward the application to the City Council with a recommendation for approval and with a statement of concern about drainage issues. I think that that was the appropriate action.
To get there, though, required several hours of presentation, questions, statements of opposition, and discussion. In chairing the meeting, I had to keep things under control, move things along, and make sure that everyone had a chance to speak. That included members of the Planning Commission who opposed the project and those who were wiling to send it on to the Council. There was also a young lawyer representing one of the opponents; she presented varying technical and legal objections in thick, lawyerly language.
I was glad that we had our City Solicitor along to advise us. I was also glad that the Mayor and several members of City Council were in the audience (along with a Council member who sits, ex officio, on our Commission).
I have to say that I was nervous going in to the meeting. I have run many meetings in my work for the State, but this was my first attempt at running a formal, legal meeting of an official city body. But, I had good advice from the Chair, before the meeting. I also had great help from the solicitor. The Commission members showed their professionalism and the tradition of collegial relations that we have established. And the people of Lewes, those for the proposal and those opposed, were polite and kind.
Our form of governance works. We have formal processes and large representative bodies for a reason. Not all interests are always satisfied. People will always leave a meeting like that feeling that they did not get their way. Not everyone is happy. But I think we all agree that we followed our format, we treated everyone with respect, and we did our best.
I think the meeting went well and I am proud to have been able to Chair a meeting that dealt with serious and contentious issues in such a gentle, polite way.