Spat flares on makeup of planning board

Cornelius commissioner Jim Bensman wants a fellow commissioner to apologize for questioning "the ability and integrity" of town planning board members who work in real estate-related professions.

Commissioner Dave Gilroy told the Observer he doesn't intend to apologize. He said the board has too many members in the industry and not enough "regular citizens."

Gilroy raised the issue when the commissioners reviewed applications for two open planning board seats last week.

Gilroy said he didn't question anyone's integrity.

"All of us believe that our planning board members will always recuse themselves when there is a direct conflict of interest," he said in an email. "They are all high-integrity folks."

Rather, Gilroy said he asked, "Do real estate professionals, simply because of how they spend their time and make their living, have a fundamentally more 'pedal-to-the-metal' mindset around growth and land development, versus the average citizen?"

Gilroy said he also asked how the public perceives having a planning board loaded with real estate professionals.

"I've heard it a thousand times over my last decade of service: The average citizen frequently believes that the real estate community controls, or at least unduly influences, the planning board," Gilroy told the Observer.

"I don't necessarily think that is true, but is it wise now to appoint two new real-estate professionals to our two open slots over all of these other great candidates?" Gilroy asked. "Especially when that takes us to five out of nine positions being held by real-estate professionals or architects/construction contractors?"

In his emailed newsletter last week, Bensman called Gilroy's position "not only erroneous and inflammatory, but an insult to people who volunteer their time to help the town."

"Professional background is key to what the planning board does, which is review applications for consistency with the Land Development Code and zoning," Bensman said. "Policy decisions are made by the Town Board."

Bensman said board members with professional experience "have proven to be the toughest on applicants because they have a better understanding of the issues."