A few years ago, City Council established new qualifications for community organizations that wish to be part of development decisions in their area. Registered Community Organizations (RCO) are formal groups of community members that weigh in on the physical development of their neighborhood, from community gardens to zoning issues.
When a developer wants to build a structure that doesn’t conform to current zoning, the local RCO will host a meeting within 45 days of the developer’s filing of a zoning appeal. For example, if the current code only allows for two-story structures and the builder wants to build a three-story structure, the builder needs to consult the RCO.
Still, the organization doesn’t make the final decision. The zoning board does, but an RCO’s approval or disapproval carries weight. Developers know the local community organization’s approval helps their case and will often acquiesce to RCOs on issues of lighting, parking, and hours of operations.
While an RCO can be (and often are) the local civic association, it doesn’t have to be. RCOs fall under oversight of the City Planning Commission and are granted a set of rights and responsibilities. A citizen group that would like to start their own RCO would need to familiarize itself with the rules and regulations.
To start, a group should check if a local RCO already exists. Next, it needs to be ready and able to hold regular open-to-the-public meetings, let the community know when and where meetings are held, develop rules and by-laws, craft a mission statement and choose its leadership. The area it oversees is limited to 20,000 land parcels.
Next, it should complete an application. Applications are accepted in June of each year and if approved, the RCO is empowered for two years.
-Text and images by Bob Stewart.