The opportunity for formal comment on projects varies depending on the type of permit.
Administrative permits such as building, zoning, fence and sign permits require no public comment. Short plats (subdivisions of nine or fewer lots) are an administrative permit. However, they require that surrounding property owners be sent notice of the application and that notice be posted on the site. Written comments are accepted up until a decision is made, which is at least 10 days after the notice is first provided. Those making written comments receive a copy of the decision.
The rules for approving an administrative permit are straightforward: If the project meets the law, the permit is approved. If not, it isn't.
Special Use Permits
Special Use Permits (SUPs) are initially treated like administrative decisions, with two exceptions. First, if anyone may request a public hearing. When the City receives an application, a notice is mailed to surrounding property owners, posted on the site and placed in the paper. Like short plats, citizens are encouraged to submit their written comments. In addition, they may request a hearing, which would be followed by additional notices of the hearing date.
Second, after meeting the same standards, as an administrative permit, SUPs must also not be detrimental to the general health, safety and public welfare, and not harm abutting properties. If there is significant harm, the applicant may have to take steps to reduce that harm. For example, the applicant might have to build a solid fence to reduce noise coming from the site.
Your input is important. To be effective, keep in mind that merely stating there will be an impact is not enough. You should be prepared to demonstrate how that impact would occur. If possible, you should suggest conditions of approval that would reduce (mitigate) the impact.
Conditional Use Permits
Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) and subdivisions are like special use permits, except that they automatically required a public hearing by a hearing examiner. This is an independent attorney or other land use professional who, like a judge, makes a final decision based on the law.
Citizen efforts can be more effective and unrealistic expectations can be avoided by understanding an important principle. A Special or Conditional Use is generally considered to be compatible with the other allowed uses in the zone and that most impacts can be effectively mitigated.
For example, say someone opposes a commercial day care center in a residential neighborhood because the use is not compatible with surrounding homes. This argument probably will not fly by itself because the ordinance has already determined these uses are compatible. The more effective testimony would identify the specific impacts of the specific proposal and ways they can be reduced. For instance, "the use will cause excessive traffic that could be mitigated by limiting the number of children allowed in the facility."