Monday, January 28, 2008

Howard's "List of Ten"

I see Bill has been posting ideas. For what it's worth, here's my "List of 10." My list should in no way influence anybody else's. The idea at this stage is to be as free-wheeling as you like.

1. Initial public contacts with land use and DPZ need to be more user-friendly!

Need clearer, bigger and less-cluttered notification signs, better notification and public info at all levels, easy-to-use website. Establish a single well-publicized DPZ Help-Line phone for any and all questions, and better train front-desk staff to lead possibly-clueless visitors by the hand to info they need.

2. Replace adversarial “faux-judicial” process with mediation-based process

Adversarial process is a huge turnoff to the public, which correctly perceives it to be unfair (citizens are the only ones who don’t profit from participation). Mediation-based compromise should be the “default,” with a goal of working out differences before a case ever comes before planning or zoning boards – and pre-submission meetings should be led by a DPZ staff facilitator, NOT by a rep of the developer/petitioner.

3. Results of development must be better

When too many developers build lowest-common-denominator development with legal-minimum regard for aesthetics or environmental impact, and citizens see the lousy results, they conclude: “Why bother?” Developers must be held to higher standards if we want more people to get involved.

4. Switch to neutral, unbiased technical (traffic, noise, environmental, etc.) studies

Replace obviously-biased petitioner/developer-commissioned reports with studies generated by DPZ staff (or contractors with NO ties to area developers). Petitioners/developers would pay the bills.

5. No more “short-cut” rezoning by text amendment

This option subverts the process. People who want to build something not allowed by existing zoning should have to apply for piecemeal rezoning with full due process.

6. Zones have to be more specific to eliminate “bait-and-switch” options

No more 45-use zones, no residential uses under commercial zones – all of which undermines credibility and predictability. Developers should have to apply for the zone that allows what they actually intend to build.

7. Create incentives for developers to be more cooperative with community residents

We’re not trying to punish or chase away developers, so give them reasons to do a better job. They’ll change their behavior if it enhances their bottom line.

8. Schedule regular one-on-one DPZ leadership-staff interviews with local reporters

Nobody reads the legal announcements, we don’t have local TV coverage, and there aren’t enough media outlets for press conferences. Giving reporters regular access to DPZ leaders to talk about current and future land-use issues might generate more and bigger news stories in the Sun and Patuxent Publishing weekly papers – where citizens might actually read them!

9. Comprehensive zoning needs to be split up

In an increasingly crowded county, with more re-zonings likely to be contentious, the current “big boiling cauldron” model of comp zoning is too complex and rushed to allow for good decisions. Break it up into 3-5 logical regions at 1-2-year intervals, and maybe try a charrette-style process.

10. Consider creating an independent zoning board

Having legislators also be regulators is a credibility-killing combo. When developers give campaign contributions to council members who then rule on land use as the zoning board, that invites the appearance of impropriety even where there is none.

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