[Source: PHXBeat, azcentral.com]
The city’s Board of Adjustment meeting on Thursday has been cancelled, which delays for another month a homeowners association attempt to stop the city from paving a parking lot on the old Ramada Inn site downtown.
The seven-member board was not able to ensure a quorum of four members would appear at the noon meeting to hear zoning issues.
The board in November had rejected a challenge by the St. Croix Villas HOA to halt the city’s parking lot plans for the inn property at Taylor and First sreets. But the HOA soon after appealed the decision.
The appeal hearing will be rescheduled for the board’s next meeting at noon Thursday, Feb. 3, in City Council Chambers, 200 W. Washington St.
– Emily Gersema, email@example.com
[Source: Emily Gersema, azcentral.com]
Phoenix city staff have told a 73-member committee charged with finding a location for a new dog park that they can’t discuss their meetings and opinions on blogs and social networks such as Twitter, a warning that some attorneys believe is a violation of free speech.
Phoenix staffers issued the directive this month, saying blogging or tweeting could violate the state’s public-meetings laws.
At least one member of the Ad Hoc Dog Park Committee, Sean Sweat, balked at the warning because he believes it’s a matter of free speech.
Sweat, who lives in downtown at St. Croix Villas and blogs about downtown issues, said city staff made similar warnings at the committee’s first meeting on Dec. 14.
The committee must suggest a new dog-park site in or near the downtown area by Jan. 31. The site must be inexpensive to develop and maintain. Most members are volunteers who live in neighborhoods in and around downtown Phoenix.
Phoenix’s open-meetings coordinator, Joey Casto, responded to Sweat with a letter on Dec. 16 warning that blogs and other online statements could prompt committee members to comment online and have a discussion outside of public view.
If enough members commented, there could be an informal quorum, which would be illegal because the discussion would be taking place outside of public view, Casto wrote. “The city strongly discourages board members from having any discussions with each other about board business outside of their publicly posted meetings,” he wrote.
Given the committee’s size, the risk of a quorum appearing online is slim. With 73 members so far and a maximum membership of 80, it’s the largest committee in the city and would need more than 37 members online to constitute a quorum.
Two attorneys consulted by The Arizona Republic read the letter and said the city is going overboard on its interpretation of the state’s open-meeting law. They said it verges on infringement of Sweat’s First Amendment right of free speech. “What the city is doing here is it is essentially squashing this member’s free-speech rights because some other members might post comments,” said Mike Liburdi, a Phoenix attorney speaking for the Arizona First Amendment Coalition. “There’s a lot of less intrusive ways of dealing with this that don’t infringe on his First Amendment rights.”
Liburdi said city staff could have asked Sweat to disable the comment capabilities on his blog, but even then, their warning is extreme. “I think they’re impermissibly chilling Mr. Sweat’s First Amendment rights based on this hypothetical concern that some other members may post replies,” he added.
Paul Bender, an attorney who teaches U.S. and Arizona constitutional-law courses at Arizona State University, said he would have thought that city staff would encourage a public blog because it is transparent, providing public information. “My reaction to (Casto’s) letter is if the blog is open to the public, I don’t think it would violate the open-meeting law,” he said. “The spirit of the open-meeting law is that the committee is not supposed to be getting together in private.”
City Council members routinely send out newsletters telling their constituents about their positions on issues that the council hasn’t voted on.
Casto said he has not heard of any effort to tell them to stop doing so. He also said he didn’t mean to infringe on Sweat’s freedom of speech. “We were definitely not trying to squash his First Amendment rights,” said Casto, who had consulted the city’s Law Department before sending Sweat the letter. “We tried to make sure that . . . the blog or e-mail is not used to circumvent open-meeting law.”
Three-fourths of the committee must agree on the site for the new dog park. The next meeting is Jan. 6 at 6 p.m.
Mayor Phil Godon is calling on neighbors and businesses to weigh in on a potential dog park in downtown Phoenix.
Gordon said he’s not opposed to the idea of a dog park but doesn’t necessarily support some of the proposed sites.
He’s planning to create a citizens’ commitee and is asking for input from “urban core” residents and businesses owners with a stake in downtown.
Earlier this year, the city knocked down part of the old Sheraton hotel to build a parking lot. But some residents would rather see a dog park built on that site.
Because the city owns the land where the parking lot would be built, it stands to make a lot of money from it.
Those interested in a possible nomination to the citizens’ commitee should submit an application at http://phoenix.gov/EMAIL/appbdcom.html.
- There will be a public hearing on the proposed dog park in front of the Phoenix Board of Adjustments TODAY at noon at City Council Chambers, 200 W Jefferson St.
- Also, you can sign an online petition in support of the proposed dog park HERE.
A couple of weeks ago, we posted that Downtown Phoenix‘s St Croix Villas needs your help in their quest to see a dog park in downtown Phoenix.
Since them Sean Sweat and his colleagues have collected over 1,100 signatures for their petition and gathered a lot of community support and even some media coverage for the dog park idea.
This week is the moment that will prove if the support is enough. There will be a public hearing with the Phoenix Board of Adjustments this Thursday, November 4th, at 12:00 (noon) at City Council Chambers (round building at 200 W Jefferson St).
Sean is looking for as much support as possible. Signatures are important, but public turnout is essential to sway the Board, and ultimately City Council.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to sign the paper version in the past 3 weeks, and will not be able to attend the Public Hearing in person, please consider signing this electronic version:
Downtown Phoenix‘s St Croix Villas needs your help. If you like any of the following things, you’ll want to help them:
- Downtown Vibrancy
DOGS MATTER IN PHOENIX
In Phoenix the dogs to humans ratio is slightly more than one dog to every two humans — the Phoenix human population is 1,512,986 and the Phoenix dog population Is 768,000 (according to “Dog Fancy Magazine“).
The “Ramada Inn Dog Park Endeavor” will be discussed at Thursday’s (Oct 21st) Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition meeting. The meeting will be at 1817 N 7th St. at 7 p.m. (Phoenix Elementary School District offices, N.E. corner).
St Croix Villas is challenging the Zoning Hearing Officer’s decision to turn the site of the historic Ramada Inn into a temporary parking lot. The “Notice of Public Hearing” for November 4th at 12:00 is attached.
Here is the text of the peition that St Croix Villas is circulating.
“I, the undersigned, hereby petition the Phoenix City Council to create a public dog park on the northern half of the block formerly filled by the Ramada Inn Phoenix Downtown, a 300 ft x 300 ft property at 401 NORTH FIRST ST., PHOENIX, AZ 85004. The parking lot currently planned to fill this property will add to Phoenix’ heat island effect and will encourage more and excessive downtown automobile traffic. Our property values, and the desirability of our community, are based on both the current and potential ‘pedestrianism’ of downtown. A new 90,000 sq. ft. parking lot is not needed and will reduce the value of our property and all downtown properties. A dog park balancing a smaller parking lot will mitigate these effects.”
If you would like to see a dog park instead of another parking lot in downtown Phoenix, please print it out and circulate it amongst your office, neighborhood, friends and/or family.