Frequently Asked Questions
Congratulations on appearance before the Mark West Area Citizens Advisory Council (“MWCAC”) to discuss your proposed use permit, rezoning application, or request for a General Plan amendment. Your participation can give you important insight into the reaction your project will generate from concerned neighbors and citizens in the Mark West Area.
This guide is intended to help you prepare for your hearing by describing the process, and listing the types of questions you might expect to hear from the MWCAC. If you have further questions or concerns, please contact the MWCAC Chair.
The MWCAC is an advisory body formed by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The group is chartered with the following mission statement:
The mission of the MWCAC is to act as a bridge for communication between the County and local residents and businesses, and the general public on local planning decisions affecting the Mark West Area.
The MWCAC provides a forum for public expression and for making advisory recommendations to the County of Sonoma and its Permit and Resource Management Department, Board of Zoning Adjustments, Planning Commission, and Board of Supervisors on applications for use permits, rezoning, and general plan amendments in the Mark West Area.
With respect to Planning, the three main functions of the MWCACare to discuss, review and make recommendations regarding development proposals located in the Mark West Area specifically related to:
- Use permits
- Rezoning Applications
- General Plan Amendments
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors appoints five members to the MWCAC. All members must reside within the referral area. Two members shall be nominated by the Mark West Chamber of Commerce; one member shall be nominated by the Mark West School Board; one member shall be nominated by the 4th District Supervisor from the Fulton area, and one member shall be nominated by the 4th District Supervisor to serve “at large.” All members shall hold office for a term of two-years or until their successor is appointed and qualified, with the exception of the initial members. Members can serve for up to two terms (a total of four years). All members shall serve at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors and may be removed from office at any time by the Board, with or without cause.
In addition, the Fourth District County Planning Commissioner may attend meetings as an ex-officio member. The Planning Commissioner is not eligible to vote at MWCAC meetings.
The MWCAC has two officers (Chair and Vice Chair) and one private position (Secretary). The Chair is responsible for conducting meetings and setting the MWCAC agenda. The Vice Chair supports the Chair in business matters. The Secretary, which is an independent contract position and is hired and compensated by the MWCAC and is responsible for public posting of the meetings, attends meetings and prepares the minutes of each meeting, as well as maintaining files. Officers serve for two year terms, with elections in January. Officers cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
The Chair of the MWCAC, with the assistance of the MWCAC Secretary, selects projects and application proposals for review based on his or her judgment of the potential impacts that the project may have on the Mark West Area.
The advantage to appearing before the MWCAC when your project is only in the conceptual stage is that you can get a sense of the community’s response to your plans before spending a lot of time and money on a full-fledged design.
The disadvantage is that the MWCAC is more likely to be unwilling to recommend approval of your plans/proposal without seeing final details, so they may ask you to reappear when you have completed your planning.
The risk of appearing late in your project planning process is that the MWCAC may recommend significant changes, or even recommend that your project be denied approval.
For projects that may generate community opposition or concerns, you might consider holding local community/neighborhood meetings before filing for a permit application.
Most projects are handled in one hearing; however, it may be to your advantage to return to the MWCAC for consideration of your revised plan.
Concerns will inherently vary, based on the type of project or proposal being reviewed. Often these topics come up during Commission meetings:
- Traffic generation, particularly along windy and well-worn County roads
- Event Activity
- Scope of use permits
- Water use
- Sanitation and other matters of health and safety
- Well, septic, drainage and ground water questions
- Visual impacts
- Appropriateness of project given zoning and other land use designations
- Preservation of trees and native habitats
- Other environmental impacts
A regular meeting begins with a roll call and the approval of the minutes, followed by an opportunity for members of the public to address the MWCAC on matters not otherwise on the agenda.
Typically a series of proposed projects and applications are then reviewed. Finally, the MWCAC considers administrative issues, and reports from ad hoc committees.
Applicants or their representatives make a brief presentation before the MWCAC, followed by a period for MWCAC members to ask questions. The public is then given an opportunity to ask questions and/or comment on the project.
The Chair will then close the public comment portion of the review, and MWCAC members will then discuss the project and pass a resolution, if warranted. Please note that once the public comment portion of the review is closed, any additional comments or answers to materials from the MWCAC members should be addressed through the Chair.
The best presentations begin with a complete application package. MWCAC members often receive abbreviated project applications from the County, and if there is additional information that you would like them to have, please work with the Council Secretary to get the materials to the MWCAC members in advance of the meeting.
A concise presentation is often better than a comprehensive one. Assume that the MWCAC members have reviewed the package of information that describes your project, so your description of the application can be brief. It is helpful to describe exactly what approval you are seeking (i.e. a zoning change or a use permit) and what level of project planning you have completed (is this is conceptual review, or are there well-developed plans?).
Focus on the impacts that your project will have and how you intend to mitigate them. What concerns are neighbors of the project likely to have? Have you notified them of your plans, or held a meeting with them yet?
MWCAC members will focus on their concerns during the question and answer period, so it is not necessary to try and anticipate and answer every concern in your presentation. If you would like guidance regarding preparation for your appearance, don’t hesitate to contact the Chair in advance of the meeting.
During the open comment period, members of the audience will have the opportunity to ask questions and state their opinions about your proposal. We recommend that you answer questions forthrightly and concisely. You should not feel obligated to respond to statements of opinion.
The Chair will help moderate this portion of the hearing. If the project is likely to engender a level of controversy or extensive feedback from the community, the Chair will likely establish guidelines for the public comment period, potentially including time limits for each speaker.
The MWCAC Secretary will capture all aspects of the project review in the meeting minutes. Minutes are distributed to the Sonoma County Fourth District Supervisor and to the County’s Planning Department.
One of the MWCAC members appointed by the County is also charged with meeting directly with planning staff to review specific projects. The Sonoma County Planning Commissioner from the Fourth District is usually in attendance to hear discussion of projects, but will not take part in the question period.
Please remember that MWCAC reviews are advisory in nature, and that you can certainly continue seeking approval for your project at the County. However, the MWCAC strives to reflect the concerns and sense of opinion of the Mark West Area, and you could consider putting this information to good use.
Can you modify your proposal to address the significant concerns raised at the hearing? If you choose to do so, you might also consider asking to appear before the MWCAC again to review your modified plans.