Roseville removes Planning Commission chair


Jim Bull

A proposed CommonBond Communities 60-unit affordable senior housing building would be in Roseville’s far northeast corner on the edge of a single-family home neighborhood. Jim Bull’s public opposition to the building, coupled with him presiding over a Planning Commission public hearing regarding land use changes for the proposed building against the advice of the city attorney, led to his removal from the Roseville Planning Commission by a unanimous city council vote. (Thomas Bonneville/Lillie Suburban Newspapers)

The Roseville City Council on July 8 removed the chair of the city’s Planning Commission.

Commissioner Jim Bull was unseated by a unanimous vote because council members said he’d potentially hurt public perception of the commission by creating questions about his impartiality regarding items before it.

Prior to the May 1 Planning Commission meeting, Bull had made online comments and signed a petition in opposition to a proposed affordable senior housing building slated to go up two blocks from his home.

Opponents of the 60-unit building planned for the northwest corner of Rice Street and South Owasso Boulevard, including Bull, said it would not fit the character of the neighborhood, which is mostly single-family homes.

At that May meeting, Bull went against advice from the city attorney that he should recuse himself from the commission’s public hearing about land use questions related to the building, because of his previously stated opinions. He presided over a lengthy and contentious discussion about the proposal.

Bull abstained from voting on the items relating to the development, which were approved unanimously by the remaining commission members. Another commissioner recused herself from the discussion because the architectural firm she works for had previously done design work for the applicant.

With the Planning Commission’s backing, the city council in June approved the needed land use and zoning changes, along with a conditional use permit, to clear the way for the senior housing building on a 3-2 vote.

Bull, who was first appointed to the commission in 2015, declined to comment for this story.

 

Future concerns

Council member Jason Etten requested that the city council discuss potential sanctions against Bull. 

He explained at the council’s July 8 meeting that he’d done so for a number of reasons, including potential legal exposure for the city had the land use changes for the building not been approved, the “perception of inappropriate participation” in the public hearing on Bull’s part, and the inability to know if he would follow city attorney advice in the future.

“I think this is a very serious thing for our city in making sure that we operate in a clean and open and fair way for our citizens,” said Etten.

Though Mayor Dan Roe opened the council discussion by laying out a number of options, from doing nothing, to suspending Bull to his removal, council members quickly moved toward discussing the latter option.

They said they’d heard concerns from residents and other commissioners about Bull’s actions shortly after the May Planning Commission meeting.

Bull emailed the council prior to its discussion of whether to sanction him, arguing that it was his obligation as commission chair to run the meeting. He stated that the city attorney had said there was no conflict of interest or ethics violation concerns regarding him presiding over the public hearing, a point not disputed by council members. He did not raise issues of public perception in his email.

Council members took issue with Bull ignoring the advice of the city attorney to recuse himself and with his apparent lack of understanding after the fact that he’d appeared to have already made up his mind on the land use questions prior to the public hearing.

“The thing that bothers me is that even after all this discussion and all this feedback from his fellow commissioners, and from some of the council and the city attorney,” said council member Wayne Groff, “he still doesn’t see this behavior, or this process that he went through as a problem.”

“Any of us can make mistakes,” Groff continued, “but I want to think that I would learn from my mistakes. And I don’t see that happening with this situation.”

Though Roe and council member Lisa Laliberte said they were unsure that removing Bull from the commission was the best remedy, they each said they were concerned by him not following the city attorney’s advice and his lack of ownership of the situation afterward. Both said it was important for the council to be united in whatever action it took.

Roe made clear prior to the 5-0 vote to remove Bull that he wasn’t being penalized for having a wrong opinion about the proposed development.

“It was the fact of taking a position and then not following the advice of recusal,” Roe said.

 

Beginnings and endings

There are now two vacancies on the Roseville Planning Commission — James Daire also recently resigned — and applications to fill either of the seats are due to the city by Aug. 12.

Bull became Planning Commission chair in April and was appointed by the council to his second three-year term on the commission in April of 2018.

Leaning on his commission experience, he ran last year for Roseville City Council. Bull made it through an August council primary before coming in fourth place in a four-way race for two seats.

The affordable senior building at Rice Street and Owasso Boulevard is being built by CommonBond Communities, a respected housing nonprofit. 

While some who live in the northeast Roseville neighborhood near the proposed complex spoke vehemently against it, other area elected officials, activists and residents have spoken in favor of it.

With the city council approvals last month, the building, called Owasso Gardens, could be complete next year.

 

–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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