Communication is key to land decisions

The Talent Planning Commission will hold the second of two public hearings tonight on the proposed truck stop and travel center on West Valley View Road. Concerned neighbors should be there, but they also should recognize that the proposal is well within the law and replaces an old truck stop that operated for years before their neighborhood existed.

Residents of the Oak Valley subdivision adjacent to the 5.4-acre site have raised concerns about pollution, traffic flow, buffers and noise. The developer appears willing to work with them as much as possible, but the reality is the project is likely to be approved. Better communication will help ensure the best outcome for everyone.

City officials from any community, when presented with development proposals that are likely to raise concerns with neighbors, could head off opposition by making extra efforts to alert residents well ahead of time. Planning officials may believe they will avoid controversy if they issue only the minimum notice required, but that often turns out to be wishful thinking.

Residents living within 250 feet of a proposed project must be notified by law, but not those living 300 feet away. That can lead to some neighbors feeling blindsided. Nothing prevents the city from expanding its notifications beyond the minimum.

Then, after most neighbors learn of the proposal, it's important that public hearings serve their intended purpose.

The first public hearing in August was plagued by sound system problems, and audience members also made noise, making it that much harder to understand what was being said. Holding a public hearing where the public can't hear only increases the frustration of people who may already feel they've been ignored.

As Planning Commissioner Joi Riley noted, the commission's job includes helping the public understand the process.

Another frustration for neighbors is the time clock that starts ticking as soon as the city accepts an application. By law, the city must make a final decision within 120 days or risk a lawsuit.

Even with the time constraint, however, it should be possible to address all relevant concerns. Developer Bob Krohn has offered to meet with neighbors, and has said he's willing to plant extra buffer trees even though they're not required. Neighbors should take him up on both counts, and give him the opportunity to explain his plans.

Because the site in question has been a truck stop for many years, and is zoned for the use, Talent officials can't justify denying the proposal outright. What they can do is address the neighbors' concerns as much as possible, and do a better job of notification and explanation next time.

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