Edina residents may have fewer chances to weigh in on proposals for new development, as city officials aim to collect more feedback online and shorten public meetings.
Officials are proposing holding public hearings only before the city's Planning Commission, cutting the requirement for a second hearing before the City Council. They say the goal is to make council meetings a little quicker, and emphasize online feedback as much as in-person public hearings when residents can speak directly to planners or council members about their concerns.
"It's just 'a' way, it's not 'the' way," Planning Commission Chair James Bennett said of public hearings as a means of hearing concerns, during a commission meeting Wednesday.
Bennett said he thinks the hearing before the Planning Commission helps residents' concerns reach developers earlier in the process, when it might be easier to incorporate that feedback. If city leaders decide to eliminate the second public hearing, people who want to talk to council members about development can still use council public comment periods, or contact council members directly, he said.
"There are still plenty of opportunities to engage with the City Council," Bennett said.
But other commissioners wondered if there are an overwhelming number of ways for residents to give input, particularly remote options that have grown since the pandemic began.
Edina has built a website, "Better Together Edina," that displays city information about major projects and provides an online forum for residents' feedback. The website also displays the email addresses and phone numbers of city staff involved in a given project if residents want to reach them directly.
Still, some open-government advocates are concerned about changes to the public input process that privilege residents who have computer access and literacy. Online feedback could also make it easier for people to hide the fact that they do not live in Edina, or even that they have an interest in a construction project.
"Sometimes people don't think through all of the implications," said Don Gemberling of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.
The coalition has seen more local government officials pushing online over in-person public participation, "number one, because it's trendy, and number two, from their perspective it makes life easier," he said.
The City Council is expected to discuss the proposal to cut some public hearings, and could vote on the change later this year.