Gating ordinance changes overlooks public comment process.
It’s back to the drawing board for Jackson’s public access gating ordinance, only weeks after two contentious public hearings exposed flaws in the statute.
Ward Six Councilman Aaron Banks recently introduced two amendments to the controversial ordinance, which the council referred to the rules committee for further discussion.
However, the amendments do not address one of the major issues opponents and supporters agree needs to be changed - the public hearing process.
Residents in favor of and opposed to gates say they would like to see the ordinance amended to improve the process for providing public comment.
Opponents want to be able to address grievances earlier in the gating process. Supporters want a way to address falsehoods that could prevent their gating applications from going through.
No committee meeting had been set at press time, but Banks said no changes to the statute would be made without hearing from the public.
“We will have one or two open forums so people could get a chance to hash that out publicly and get on the same page before we bring it out,” he said.
Banks didn’t know what the ordinance would look like once changes are finalized. However, he hopes for a measure that will please supporters and opponents of gates.
“We need to find a way to make it work, no matter how hard that work is,” he said.
Banks’ amendments include prohibiting gates that would separate neighborhoods that use the same collector streets or a shared entrance, as well as prohibit exit-only gates “where an entrance is adjacent to another neighborhood.”
The proposal addresses some, but not all, of the concerns that came out of recent public hearings.
In April, public hearings were held to determine whether the council should approve gating applications for two Northside neighborhoods: Eastover and Woodland Hills.
Following heated testimony from both sides, both neighborhoods withdrew their applications.
Eastover had hoped to install five gates, including one at Quail Run Road and East Manor Drive.
Quail Run is a main access road for the East Manor neighborhood, with people from that neighborhood using it to access Meadowbrook Road.
Residents along East Manor opposed that gate, because it would block that entrance.
At the April hearing, opponents also complained that the gate would prevent pedestrians from walking in and out of the neighborhood, something that was vehemently denied by Greater Eastover Foundation Executive Director Dana Robertson.
“Jackson’s traffic division required us to show pedestrian walkways on on our public-access gating plans,” she said.
Robertson and other supporters said they would like to see the gating ordinance modified to give supporters an opportunity to dispel false information put out by their opponents.
Carl Menist, who spoke against Woodland Hills’ application, seemed to back up Robertson’s sentiments at the public hearing, telling the council the city had a “poor grievance process” for dealing with gating opponents.
Under provisions of the current measure, the only time residents can speak for or against a gating application is at the public hearing before the council. At public hearings, supporters and opponents are each given 15 minutes to present their case, with no opportunity to rebuke.
With zoning cases, public hearings are held before the city’s planning board and city council.
Banks echoed similar concerns, saying he was uncomfortable voting on either application, without “knowing what was true and not true.”
“It made me take pause,” he said. “Let’s put it back in the committee and let’s work it out.”
Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote and Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay hadn’t had a chance to review the ordinance at press time.
Lindsay said she was previously open to amending the ordinance, citing the April public hearings.
Foote, who previously said the ordinance was fine, said he was also amenable to discussing changes.
“I’m open to all discussion and getting people’s feedback on it,” he said. “It’s best to get the community engaged.”