The Commonwealth Zoning Board wants to come up with a policy that would prevent members of the public from “attacking” investors applying for permits in future public hearings.
This recommendation was offered on Feb. 21 after board chair Diego Blanco questioned the need for a second public hearing on a conditional-use application submitted by EY Corp. to operate a synthetic ice skating facility on public land across the Superior Court.
Blanco argued that the board should have decided on the merit of the application during the first public hearing on Jan. 17.
Board members described that public hearing as “nasty,” “unpleasant” and “ugly” after two community members opposed the company's project site, saying it is an ancient Chamorro burial site.
This claim prompted Zoning administrator Therese T. Ogumoro to recommend scheduling a second public hearing to solicit further comments from the public, including the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs and its attached agencies. DCCA is in charge of the Historic Preservation Office and the Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture.
The board approved the application during the second public hearing held on Feb. 19 at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center.
Ogumoro recounted on Thursday's meeting that she invited DCCA Secretary Melvin Faisao to comment on the matter by email but Faisao declined. Ogumoro sent another email, this time informing Faisao about a claim that the proposed area for the skating facility is an ancient burial site.
According to Ogumoro, Faisao responded in a manner that questioned the legality and authority of the Zoning Office.
“He stated that CNMI local law does not prevail over CNMI-wide statutory requirements. I had to refer it to our legal counsel,” she said.
Ogumoro noted that the effort to involve DCCA was not only part of the Zoning Office's application process but also “a good gesture” that demonstrates smooth coordination with other permitting agencies.
But board chair Blanco maintained that having a second public hearing was a waste of time, considering that it was not attended by the two individuals that opposed the project site and that the Zoning Office failed to solicit comments from DCCA.
Additionally, Blanco said, the further delay caused by the second public hearing could have discouraged the investor.
Legal counsel Kate Fuller, however, pointed out that regulatory processes are expected not only on Saipan but throughout the world, particularly for an investor who wants to initiate any project development.
Fuller said the first public hearing should not have gone as “ugly” as it did by having a policy in place.
She added that there should also be a policy that would require attendees of zoning public hearings to speak in English, a language that people can generally understand.