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Thread: Is there a way to legislate responsiveness to community requests?

  1. #1
    Nov 2010
    Philadelphia, PA

    Is there a way to legislate responsiveness to community requests?

    In 2005 Williamsburg saw a re-zoning by the city that allowed for a number of residential towers to be put up along its waterfront. The community put together its own plan and had that plan approved by local government, but saw its plan largely ignored in the re-zoning. The re-zoned area allowed for the towers which are of a much greater height than the surrounding residential area and eliminated much of the light industry in the area.

    I realize that the developer comes to the city with a bag of money and the city goes "Yeah, bag of money, great" (awesome over-simplification, right?). And I further realize that Williamsburg was an area that was largely ignored, gross and undesirable to investment for decades, but at this point of time I would like to think that Williamsburg had enough of its own thing going on that city could have taken the community plan and the developers would have developed according to that plan and made money. Even if it was perhaps less money... why was the plan so doomed to failure? Jane Jacobs herself wrote a letter in support of the 197a plan...

    I'm wondering if there is a way to legislate more responsiveness from government.

  2. #2
    Jul 2011
    Encinitas, CA
    Anything that can be legislated by government can be undone through legislation from subsequent governments.

    The only way, in my opinion, to ensure that such things don't happen is to somehow make things a state requirement; however, in most cases you'll find that is not feasible.

    My $0.02.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    Quote Originally posted by Tarf View post
    ...The only way, in my opinion, to ensure that such things don't happen is to somehow make things a state requirement; however, in most cases you'll find that is not feasible....
    Not to mention often undesirable.

    I am not sure from your post if you meant that the neighborhood itself drew up a plan, or if the city prepared a neighborhood plan. Either way, but especially the first, the city should be making plans that are ultimately beneficial to the entire community. A neighborhood is entitled to some consideration, but there are times, to quote Spock, when "the needs of the many outweigh those of the few, or the one." Again, I do not have the specifics, so I can't say that is what happened here, but just offer this as a possibility.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  4. #4
    Nov 2010
    Ontario has an often criticized, but relatively effective, system for insuring municipal level governments respect provincial and their own policies. It’s called the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). People (generally developers or members of the public) can appeal any planning decision to the board if they feel a decision made by a municipal government does not reflect provincial planning policy or the community’s own plans. The public generally doesn’t like the OMB because most appeals are from developers appealing as a result of politicians denying approval for their project, despite it being in line with their own municipal plans and policies, in favour of public opinion, which results in the politician’s decision being overturned and the project getting the go-ahead. The criticism of the system is that the public is less likely to appeal a questionable approval because they have fewer financial resources to hire lawyers and planners. So in the case of Williamsburg the OMB could only have reviewed the development and potentially overturned the decision if some member of the public or a residents group hired a lawyer and filed an appeal within the allotted time frame.

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
    May 2003
    Staff meeting
    Yes there is a way (and Tarf already mentioned it) - It's called the City Council electoral process.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

    You know...for kids.

  6. #6
    Jul 2009
    Colo Front Range
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    It's called the ...electoral process.
    What they said.

  7. #7
    Jul 2010
    BC, Canada
    Planners making plans should take into account many things, including neighborhood input, but also the city's overall goals and needs, which may be addressed as values and qualitative goals in a comp plan, but may also be expressed quantitatively (goals such as accomodating x new units of market-rate and/or affordable housing, or locating x% of new housing units or jobs within 1/4 mile of transit, etc.).

    Many states have enabling legislation requiring that specific plans follow city comp plans. Growth management legislation may also have other requirements - such as providing enough development capacity for expected housing and employment growth.

    I agree with Cardinal that you present too little information to comment on. But, I am concerned that the neighborhood plan may not have met the greater good of the city. I think its not simply a case of a developer bringing "bags of money" - if they are building residential towers, and those towers are selling or leasing up, there is a clear need within your city for housing, and the need is being expressed in market demand. If its been decided that this is the right area to meet this demand, then I could see the neighborhood more productively focusing input on, for example, the quality of the public waterfront and any open spaces (that all of the neighborhood can enjoy), the interface between the new development and the old, the quality of streetscape, etc., than trying to limit the number of units produced.

    Of course, if there were a real reason that this is the wrong site (no transit access, or sensitive natural features, or historic resources - but not just "the neighbors don't like it"), or if the developer rode roughshod over the city/public (not dedicating sufficient space for the public waterfront, for example, or ignoring reasonable neighborhood requests), or if the developer convinced the local renewal authority to help to finance units for which there was insufficient demand, it may be a different story.

    Its always a give and take, but I believe that neighborhood plans need to support the overall goals of the city, and need to look at those goals in a quantifiable manner, and ask the neighborhood what they want in light of this.

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