In an era of daily newspapers shutting down or dramatically reducing their publication dates to just twice or thrice a week, and with Saturday mail delivery being on the fiscal chopping block, it seems long-past time that planning and zoning enabling legislation be updated to reflect our 21st Century paradigm. Far too often, planning and zoning laws have been written (without being updated) to reflect the communication/notification patterns of the mid-20th Century – most often by posting a sign, by mailing notices to property owners within “x” number of feet, and/or by publication of a legal notice in a newspaper of general circulation.
The problem with the old school enabling legislation is that in some communities the printed daily newspaper is a thing of the past – Ann Arbor, Michigan for example. There, instead of a printed newspaper, a modern website is the principal source of daily news. Likewise, other cities have seen their daily newspapers be published just a few times a week. Lastly, the United States Post Service (USPS) has indicated it intends to eliminate Saturday delivery of first class mail and may start requiring consolidated mail delivery locations instead of having an individual mailbox at every address. Each of these changes can and will present notification challenges to planners across the country.
So, how should local ordinances and state legislation be updated and/or revised to reflect these 21st Century trends, while maintaining the necessary transparency for those being impacted by potential land use decisions and the community at large? Here are a few suggested ideas, which are NOT meant to be comprehensive. A number of these can be done voluntarily, but it is also important to bring consistency to the notification process so the general public knows where to look in the first place. Please feel free to pass your suggestions along:
- Post all legal notices on community websites and/or on the community’s cable channel.
- Allow legal notices to be published in electronic format as well as print format. In those cases where there is not a newspaper of record being published any longer, allow only electronic format noticing.
- Post legal notices at public buildings such as the post office, library, schools, or at municipal building(s).
- Develop a legal notice phone hotline for people to call that also includes TTY/TDD options for the hearing impaired.