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City to hire hearing examiner in 2007

Help wanted.

Must know Sunnyside's city codes backward and forward, but not active in city affairs.

That, in a nutshell, is the new help the city of Sunnyside is seeking for the hearing examiner position approved last night by the city council.

City Manager Bob Stockwell noted the city's insurer has recommended bringing on a hearing examiner to ensure objective decisions related to land use matters.

And the examiner may help keep the city out of court in the future.

Stockwell noted over the past several years the city has seen an "increase in legal proceedings related to land use items and use of private property."

Previously, Sunnyside relied on a board of adjustment and the planning commission, both made up of local citizens, to help with hearing issues such as annexations and re-zone petitions.

With the hearing examiner position, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2007, Sunnyside will have a neutral party to hear the requests and make recommendations to council.

That, in turn, means Sunnyside will no longer need a board of adjustment.

Further, the city anticipates the planning commission will be freed up to "concentrate its energies on matters of broad public import (or importance), including finalization of the comprehensive plan update and other public policy issues," according to a statement prepared by City Attorney Mark Kunkler.

Because of the examiner's wide-ranging responsibilities in hearing land-use issues, Stockwell said the city will hire someone, perhaps a lawyer, with experience in that field.

Due to the job requirements and the city's desire to hire someone as a neutral third party, Stockwell said, in response to a question by Councilman Bill Gant, that it is unlikely the hearing examiner will be from Sunnyside.

Stockwell noted that the hearing examiner, who will be paid on a case-by-case basis estimated to total $12,000 per year, may have the Padelford annexation in the wings awaiting his or her review.

The annexation proposal involves 100 acres owned by Don Padelford near the Sunnyside airport. Padelford is seeking to have the acreage converted from farmland to accommodate approximately 350 to 400 homes.

Kunkler noted during last night's meeting that council will have an opportunity to discuss the annexation issue at its Dec. 11 meeting.

Council may recommend the annexation and forward it on to the hearing examiner to review for zoning issues, as well as sending the annexation to the county's boundary line commission for its review.

The findings of both the examiner and commission would then be reported back to council for final action at a later date.

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