JONESBORO — Mayor Harold Copenhaver is searching for ways to get local residents involved earlier in the process of local legislating. When they do, they can help the city develop better solutions, he said.
The latest example of what he’s talking about is the cottage housing ordinance, which was approved last month.
The housing option, designed for one- or two-person households, had been in the works for several months, starting with a review and input from the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.
The plan then went to the Jonesboro City Council’s public works committee for review, then was forwarded to the full council for readings at three separate meetings.
It wasn’t until the third reading that serious opposition had developed. Final action was postponed to allow city officials to meet with people who had aired objections, and Copenhaver said residents helped the city develop a better ordinance.
“It’s truly important that we get our community more involved in our process,” Copenhaver said. “The committees are key and they’re being overlooked at this point. Everything is really being heard on the third reading. In essence, people are supposed to get involved earlier in the process. I want to engage the community earlier in the process, because ultimately, we get better policy enacted.”
Cottage homes would be built in clusters of four with a maximum of 12, all within one acre. The clusters would share common green space.
Among changes from the original draft of the standards is a provision that no more than two of the small detached houses can look alike. The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission would be tasked with deciding whether a developer’s plans blend in with the surrounding neighborhood.
Agendas are published on the city’s website at 4 p.m. on the Thursday before the council’s Tuesday meeting.
“We’re going to develop a process on our website to where it’s more user friendly for people in the community to see what’s on the agenda,” Copenhaver said. “I want them to participate, then come learn about what that ordinance is, then make comments (at committee meetings), or just listen.”
Because committee’s only have about a half-hour designated for their sessions, prior to a full council meeting, Copenhaver said it may be necessary for committees to hold special meetings on other dates.
Some residents have complained to The Sun that Copenhaver appears to be trying to suppress public comments and questions at public meetings, pointing to a sign-in sheet that was recently introduced.
Copenhaver said he adopted the sign-in sheet from his time in the state Legislature.
The sign-in sheet is just like a sign-in sheet at a doctor’s office, the mayor said.
“This is just documenting that individuals that are speaking, No. w1, we have their names spelled correctly for public record; we have their address,” Copenhaver explained. “And it also provides me, as they did in the Legislature, whether you are speaking for or against a particular ordinance. In doing so, that allows me to be able to run the meeting more efficiently, should we have a lot of speakers and be fair to yes and no on both sides. That’s it; that’s all it is.”
Copenhaver said the sign-in sheet also allows residents to provide phone numbers or emails, where he can personally contact them later.
He also pointed out the city has provisions that allow residents to call in to council and committee meetings to ask questions or express opinions.