The Board will need to determine who besides the MRA has standing to act as a party in the case.
Having standing means you have the right to participate fully in the hearing as a party, including presenting evidence, making arguments, cross-examining witnesses, objecting, etc. It is also necessary for appealing the outcome after the fact.
The Board will hear and rule on requests for standing at the very start of the hearing on the first day, before anything else happens.
To get standing, you need to be able to present a credible allegation that you could suffer specific damages from the outcome of the hearing, typically shown by some combination of proximity, impact on property value, and other effects (glare, odor, etc.).
Location alone isn’t determinative: you could live right next door and not get standing if you can’t show any reason to expect specific damages, or you could live a mile away and get standing if you can credibly assert that the development would cause you damage in some particular way (such as traffic).
Likewise, past cases have established that disliking the aesthetics of the proposed structure is not enough to establish standing. There needs to be an alleged damage that you would suffer.
Even people who don’t have standing might still be allowed to make a comment at the end of the hearing at the Board’s discretion, but their opportunity for participation is much more limited.
The Town of Montreat has a form that you can fill out by October 20th to request standing. This form does have a check-box option for persons who won't suffer damages but wish to be heard by the Board. The form can be found here: https://townofmontreat.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Standing-Application.pdf
Those interested in obtaining standing are advised but not required to fill out the form in advance, they can also request standing in person at the beginning of the October 21st hearing.
To take part in a quasi-judicial hearing you must present competent, material, and substantial evidence. This means basically what it sounds like— you have to show meaningful evidence that has a bearing on the legal issues and could reasonably sway someone one way or the other.
There are two types of witnesses: lay witnesses (also called “fact witnesses”) and expert witnesses.
An expert witness is someone with qualifications and experience needed to make expert opinions (e.g. “their use would create an odor out to this specific range”).
A lay witness can be anyone, but they can’t testify to the sort of opinions that require expertise. They can only testify to facts they have knowledge of (e.g. “my house is this many feet away”).
Parties can object to evidence, for instance on the grounds that it’s irrelevant. The Chair makes the initial ruling on whether to sustain the objection (exclude the evidence) or overrule the objection (allow the evidence), but the party ruled against can request a full board vote.
Order of hearing
applicant calls their witnesses
other parties call their witnesses
Board may choose to allow testimony from people without standing
Immediately after a party calls and examines a witness, other parties and the Board have the opportunity to question that witness as well.
Whether anyone who’s not called as a witness by a party can testify is totally up to the Board’s discretion. They might allow anyone to present competent, material, and substantial evidence, but also might limit testimony to prevent repetitive or redundant evidence. Many boards put out sign-up sheets before the meeting so people who wish to testify can put down their name. If any of these additional people are allowed to speak at the hearing, they’ll be sworn in like everyone else.
Before the hearing, or between sessions of a multi-day hearing, the Board members can’t talk with anyone about the issues, including each other — those are “ex parte communications” and not allowed. They can do site visits or use other prior knowledge they have, but they have to disclose that.
Before the hearing, the Board will be given no documents about this case except for the MRA’s application and the Town staff’s report. At the hearing parties might present them with other documents — for instance, a binder full of tabs with different evidence — but the Board can’t actually look at them until a witness who can talk about them comes up to testify.
Before the hearing, Board members will be asked if they have any conflicts of interest. They have a conflict if they have a prior fixed opinion on the case that’s not subject to change, or if they have any close familial, business, or financial interest in the outcome.
After the hearing, a party might appeal the Board’s decision to a higher court. If so, that court can only substitute in their own judgment for matters of law — for matters of fact they still have to defer to what the Board determined.