My thoughts involve a bigger change with a deeper impact…
The PELU taskforce and subcommittee 3 have enumerated many suggestions for improving public engagement in the land use process. Implementing many of these suggestions would enhance public involvement.
A bigger step in the array of possibilities would be to raise the level of public involvement by requiring a much higher level of early dialogue and formal community votes before a proposed zoning changes reach the Planning Board.
The current County review process for development projects is falling short in three ways…
The citizens note a feeling of exclusion and a lack of meaningful involvement in the current process.
There is no mechanism for economic review to insure that the County is getting a fair deal in their partnership with developers.
There is no professional design review to inure that good innovations are promoted and bad design is blocked.
Except for relatively informal preliminary community meetings and technical reviews by the County staff, it is possible for a project to reach the planning board with only a minimum of citizen input and no economic or design review. The resulting citizen frustration is expressed in hours of passionate testimony on items that have little impact or legal relevance while important community issues are ignored. Given the level of community intelligence, we can do better in addressing all of these shortfalls.
The County has an opportunity to accomplish community enhancements like full spectrum housing and sustainable design by harnessing the energy of the marketplace for the common good. To insure that the proposed changes benefit the County we need three types of advisory reviews prior to projects reaching the Planning Board (PB). A DAP (design advisory panel) is nearly ready for legislative action. HCCA is making a bold initiative in convening a session on the economics of development. Setting up an ERP (economic review panel) would be the next logical step.
Citizen input is still fuzzy, inconsistent and often seems to be ignored. This could be remedied by having a known process with meaningful votes taken at the grassroots level. The most significant and first review should happen as a dialogue in a Community Review Process (CRP). This process could be broadly applied. The steps in this process for land development might look like the following…
An advocating developer or land owner, call them the advocate (AD), sees a need that can be addressed by enhancing the use of vacant or previously under developed parcel(s). The AD gains the agreement of the parcel owners who act in unison.
The AD starts the process by filing a short written notice of intention (NOI) accompanied by a simple delineation of the affected land parcels. The AD pays the County a fee (F1) for organizing the initial community meeting (CM1) and to cover the initial County administrative costs.
The appointed County Facilitator (CF) advertises the NOI and posts the included parcels for the CM1 to be held in 21 days after filing at a nearby school or government facility.
The CF runs the CM1 where the AD presents their NOI and the community presents their thoughts on appropriate community goals and objections in response. The object of the CM1 is to establish project goals and set forth the stages of the CRP for the interchanges between the AD and the community that will come. Late in the CM1, the facilitator will seek nominations from those attending for a 7 person community review committee (CRC). If more than 7 candidates are proposed, the makeup of the CRC will be determined by an election of citizens attending the meeting. The County will document thoughts expressed at the CM1 by transcribing any recoded comments and compiling written submissions in a written CM1s -Initial Community Meeting summary.
Within 14 days, the CRC will meet with the CF to organize itself, elect a chairperson, discuss relevant issues, solidify their concerns and identify County resources that need to be tapped. The CRC should review and sign off on the County prepared CM1 summary, adding its own emphasis on important points to consider. This summary will be forwarded to the AD within 21 days of the CM1 and posted on the internet by the County.
Assuming that the AD wants to continue the process, a second fee (F2) will be paid to the County sufficient to cover, County costs and initial impact assessments (IIA) to be conducted by the County personnel and a second round of community meetings (CM2).
The AD will prepare conceptual plans and may post those plans on the County web site prior to the CM2 or may decide that his proposal is best presented directly to the community with a verbal presentation at the CM2. At the CM2, the AD will present conceptual plans that respond to the CM1s and solicit feedback from the County and Community. The CF and CRC will solicit responses and dialogue from those attending.
In some smaller or non controversial projects, the AD’s response and community reaction may warrant a final formal vote of those attending CM2 to ascertain and document the community’s recommendation on the presented concept. The written vote shall be written and have 4 options:
Approved as presented
Rejected as inappropriate
Approved with limitations (listed),
More information necessary (list specific concerns).
After the vote of the vote by the attendees at CM2, the CRC will have a ratifying vote that reflects their own sentiment and follows the same format as the vote of the attendees. The votes will be complied by the county with a summary posted on the County internet site. The votes and accompanying documentation will be sent to the Planning Board –PB for their consideration.
If the project scope warrants or if the AD or County requires it, the project can go through additional community meetings to detail the developer approach and refine the project. CM2, CM3, CM etc. At each meeting the sentiment of both the attendees and the CRC will be measured by a formal vote.
To allow for more thorough study, the CF or CRC may require the developer to pay additional fees (F3) to cover the costs of other analysis (such as transportation – environmental impact, LEED, or other consultant studies).
On a parallel track, if required by law or by the request of the CF or CRC, the project may undergo economic review and design review.
The purpose of the economic review panel (ERP) will be to review the project economics. The project will need to have sufficient design development to allow costing of construction and other economic burdens. These costs will be compared with community needs to determine whether the project is a true partnership between the AD who will make a reasonable profit and the community who will gain amenities or address community needs. The standing ERP committee will receive written and-or oral input from the CRP at the beginning of their sessions and shall stay acquainted with the continuing actions of the CRP. Multiple sessions across the table form the AD may be required to fully comprehend the project economics. After a dialogue with the AD, the ERP will forward their professional view of the project economics.
The purpose of the DAP will be to review aspects of the AD’s proposal to ascertain whether issues related specifically to the technical parts of the design are being adequately addressed by the proposal. Do opportunities exist for design improvement? After a dialogue with the AD, the ERP will forward their professional view of the project economics.
The CRC, ERP and DAP will mutually inform each other and may hold joint sessions prior to their final actions on a project.
Having already engaged the community, when a proposal reaches the PB or ZB (Zoning Board) testimony could be limited to written submissions and dialogue with selected community members who have given evidence of some special knowledge that is relevant.
P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail - Thanks,
Tim Sosinski, AIA