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Thread: Comp Plan Reviews

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Comp Plan Reviews

    I have recently been put in charge of our comp plan review. I have ideas and have put together a comp plan for a class studio project a few years ago. Just curious if anyone has any suggestions as far as websites or books to kind of jog my memory or give me new ideas. I've been scanning through my old stuff, but I'd like to see some new stuff on the issue...

    (Dan) Moved this thread to Make No Small Plans because it's more related to comprehensive planning than current planning.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    By "review," do you mean update?

    I'd start by reviewing your state's enabling statute for comp plans, and then go on to see what other municipalities/regions have done recently. I usually try to innovate based on the best of what's been done recently elsewhere combined with the local product needs.

    As for general literature on the topic of comp planning, I've not seen much that lit my fires. Of course, I've yet to read The Planning for Results Guidebook.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  3. #3

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    The first and most important question is: how are you going to involve the people of the community in this review and, as necessary, update? Its their plan, and what they have to say should guide your efforts.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    First thing I would do is to look at all variances/special approvals, rezonings and other items that have been passed and assess if the appropriate sections that caused these items to occur need to be revamped.

    Then I'd look at where the community "is" and where it wants to "go" and see if the plan provides the tools and directions to get there. Making appropriate ammendments.

    I know this is not the politically correct response, but public participation, hell even council participation would be pretty low on my list of things to seek out until the legal process requires it..
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  5. #5

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    How does one know what the people want/need without talking to them?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    How does one know what the people want/need without talking to them?
    Ms. Cleo will tell 'em!
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  7. #7
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    How does one know what the people want/need without talking to them?
    I guess you've had better experiences in rural planning than I have had.

    What people continually tell me/other staff is to PFO and not so nicely. I've outlined before the fun of being followed home from meetings and real threats to my safety.

    Generally, I have found that very few members of the public have anything worth listening to (mostly with respect to Zoning and Policy Planning, neighbourhood development planning experiences have been slightly better). Like I say I know this is not the "politically correct" view of planning, but when you deal with many of the people(citizens, interst groups, politicians) I have it is tough to believe in public participation.

    I am currently trying to write a humorous article on the types of people who attend public meetings, if I ever finish it, I'll place it here first for comments. Here is the thread that provides teh rough outline for where my article will be going.

    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...ht=sky+is+blue
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  8. #8

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    Not to be irritating, but I am not in the least concerned with political correctness. I simply cannot think of any better way to have folks continue to tell you to PFO than to proceed to make decisions without seriously considering what they have to say. Indeed, it seems to me that you are confirming what they want to believe.

    Having worked in places where militias and the Klan were presences, and where some folks chose to come to meetings armed, I am well aware of the tension it creates, and understand why one might be weary and cynical. But few rural communities where those folks are a majority have any planning or planners or at all. Someone must think its a good idea. I would have a talk with those someones about the abusive behavior. And if they didn't exercise some leadership, I'd buy a book of stamps and print some resumes.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I'm going to back donk 100% in this debate. Public participation is not where I would start. As others suggest, review what has happened over the years since the plan was adopted, both internally and externally. Next, consider what needs public input. There are many elements planning that I would not care to have the public interfering with. They may have no knowledge, or their interests may be formed by personal issues, or for whatever reason, I find it better to simply form my recommendations and then take them to the board. Public participation works when you have a public willing and able to offer valuable ideas, but otherwise it is an impediment to the process. It isn't PC to say so, but it is.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    But few rural communities where those folks are a majority have any planning or planners or at all. Someone must think its a good idea. I would have a talk with those someones about the abusive behavior. And if they didn't exercise some leadership, I'd buy a book of stamps and print some resumes.
    That is the problem where I live/work, most areas have no planning, hell we just got building permits required everywhere last year. Try telling someone that we want to see a foundation before backfill is hard enough, I can't imagine telling anyone that they can't dig out all of the gravel to their property lines, actually I can, and it was not pleasant.

    Some of the most abusive people have been those that should know better (ie local/provincial politicians, local lawyers, Doctors). Local planning in our rural areas is not politicailly expedient and we can work our hearts out, educate the locals, get them on side, listen to the majority of them, but one connected person feels slighted and flush 2-3 years of work down the drain. One of my favourite quotes from a meeting was directed to the local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) - "We did not put you there to do this to us". We had the RCMP in the parking lot at that meeting to prevent problems. I've seen fist fights in parking lots, burnt bales of hay in the field, vandalism(skidders spray painted, tires spiked on tractors) and other degenerate behaviour sparked by feuds related to planning and development control.

    As for resumes, over 80 sent out in the past 9 months, with 15 interviews so far, all in other jurisdictions. Maybe those places will be better and have a better more sympathetic public then I am used to dealing with.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  11. #11

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    Hope your job hunt goes better! But remember that one influential person can throw a wrench in the works in very urban places, too!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Planning is a bit more entrenched here, and we have generally had good results with public participation in the comp planning efforts. Just don't do as our former Planning Director did during our last Plan update: at all the public workshops, she made the citizens play "XXXXX County Jeopardy" before she began the public input portion. Not only were we skewered in the newspapers, it really pissed off the citizens at the meetings.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    (Dan thanks for placing the post in the proper place.)

    Second order of biz, I agree with Donk to some degree. I really need to have a framework and foundation set before this is open to public input. At this point this will just be a Comp. Land Use Plan review, which will eventually evolve into revamping the General Plan.

    I am starting from scratch trying to inform commissioners why we have a comp plan. The City, IMO, has not prepared the commissioners for their positions. They get an ordinance book and a copy of the zoning map and thats it! So my plan is to incorporate a review of basic planning principles in the framework of the review and eventually establish an orientation packet that will better prepare the commissioners. So in a sense I'm looking for City P&Z orientation manuals as well... Has someone seen one that you think was done especially well?

    But back to Donk's comments, if you let the general public come in and start ranting and raving many times the issue at hand is lost in the squabble. So its best IMO to have a framework established and a Chair of the committee who can keep everyone on course and remind the public the purpose of the specific item addressed...

  14. #14
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess
    Just don't do as our former Planning Director did during our last Plan update: at all the public workshops, she made the citizens play "XXXXX County Jeopardy" before she began the public input portion. Not only were we skewered in the newspapers, it really pissed off the citizens at the meetings.
    My previous superior tried that too, not good making the locals look/feel like fools about their own community.

    Lee, the rural expereince I have has definitely shown me how politics work. It is just so much clearer and easy to connect the dots in a super rural area.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  15. #15

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    Frustrating as it might be, I prefer the clarity.

    When I talk about getting folks involved, I most assuredly am NOT talking about letting folks "rant and rave" or about having them play Jepoardy. You definitely need to build a framework with your leadership first, and include them (as well as other key people) in designing the public involvement campaign. There are some interesting materials out there for planning commissioners: the Idaho Planning Association used to have a nice guide, and the Planning Association of Washington should also have some stuff. In fact, quite a few state agencies or university extension services have materials that may help. "Short courses" for planning commissioners are also available in many states, and it truly does help to have your folks hear what you want them to from someone else.

    Once the leadership is coming up to speed you can design a campaign of events that are structured to limit ranting and raving and guide discussion into productive channels. It is easy to find materials with suggestions. The Planning for Result Guidebook spends a lot of time on this. U of Minnesota Extension also publishes an excellent set of manuals on facilitation. If you don't have those skills you may need to find a facilitator who does. If you do, find one who knows planning.

    The main thing you cannot do is make your "framework" so definite that people think the decisions have already been made.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Interesting Thread. I tend to prefer public participation from the start. Thats said, I have never had a contentious public hearing on a major plan document. However, you need to know your audience. Differrent interest groups will react differently to your efforts.

    I can see both sides of this arguement though. Now that I'm on the dark side, I've been doing one of two things: (1) Contact the releasing agency and try to get a fell for the level of participation they anticipate, or (2) Spec the sessions as optional, and if the client wants to negotiate their removal, its easy enought to do.

  17. #17

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    Making public involvement an optional part of quote the right way to do it. I have lost a lot of money on public involvement in certain consulting projects. Doing it right is incredibly time-consuming and clients need to understand that. The other thing I have found is that you need to make sure they take a healthy share of the responsibility for this part of the process. That said -- ALL of the successful projects I have been involved with featured a major commitment to public involvement, and ALL of them began that process up front.

  18. #18

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    Wow. I thought Canadians were quiet and civillized Good luck, Donk.

    Seriously, I agree with the general thread here: Establish your framework according to State enabling legislation, past practice, and regional trends/examples. Involve the public in developing goals and objectives (and major, policy changes). Use your professional experience in developing the actual plan language and graphics.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    There are many methods of public input. I had the luxury and burden of completing a new plan in house, with just me as the planner. My first public input was talking up planning...in the coffee house, the local pub, homebuilders and Lions meetings, people coming in the office for permits. Not a formal process by any means, but I ascertained the issues.

    Much, much later came the more formal input: the citizen surveys, the focus groups, the public hearings. Don't be scared of the public; rather, find a method that works with your community.

    As for the original question, I found sample plans that I thought would help, most on the net. Copied several of them for future reference. Bought "Guidelines for Preparing Urban Plans" by Larz Anderson from Planners Press (not a bad resource, btw), and I went back to the Green Book. In the end, I threw out all the sample plans. They just were not going where my town was.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Mike, you bring up an excellent point. In the smaller communities in which we work, we are intimately familiar with many of the issues, and have usually made the rounds of property and business owners, as well as the public forums, so often that we begin the process with a good understanding of conditions. With that background, it is often more effective to initiate the planning without the added hoops of numerous, contentious public meetings.That may not be true in a large city.
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  21. #21
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    We just started our General Plan update with a Town Hall meeting. It used a focus group format with Planning Commissioners as facilitators and recorders (10 minutes of training).

    We started with a brief presentation about what the General Plan is, then broke into three focus groups. Each groups was in a semi circle with the faciltator and recorder up front. The faciltator pointed at people to talk. The recorder wrote down the comment on poster sheets n the wall (1 to 2 lines max). The basic approach was to answer one of three questions. What do you like about the city. What could be improved. What is your vision for the next 10-20 years.

    The purpose of the focus group is to have people talk to the sheet of paper, not to each other. Results come quickly because, once the idea is no the page, it doesn't have to be repeated. Also, a good facilitator will keep speeches from being made. (Talk to the paper, not the group.)

    After comments are received, each person gets to "vote" on what is most important. We gave everyone five dots. They could stick 'em wherever they wanted.

    The end results of this process are usually close to the accuracy of a scientific public poll. I did a focus group after a major polling effort a few years ago, and found the focus group was reasonably close to poll results.

    An interesting thing happens with the focus group process. People come with their one major issue, but also honestly discuss a variety of secondary issues. And that gives a very balanced result.

    Anyway, I'm going to assemble the results this weekend, and I expect that the General Plan will pretty much reflect the results of this one town hall meeting.

    Our next step is a second Town Hall meeting with comment stations to look at specific plan subjects (traffic, housing, quality of life, economic development, where to grow or not to grow, etc.)

  22. #22

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    I am most curious about the assumption that public meetings will be contentious. For a long time, I specialized in working in places where there were polarizing issues, recent declaration of a scenic river imposed by outside urban forces, a proposal to put a greenway through a neighborhhod, that sort of thing, but I can count the number of meetings that were not kept on the agenda and did not result in some learning on one hand. That doesn't mean every process was successful - sometimes the community just is not ready. But I am curious (and perhaps this needs to be a new thread) about two things: 1) what techniques have people used to structure the meetings that were so contentious? 2) how much training in the art of meeting facilitation and conflict management do Cyburbanites have?

  23. #23
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    But I am curious (and perhaps this needs to be a new thread) about two things: 1) what techniques have people used to structure the meetings that were so contentious? 2) how much training in the art of meeting facilitation and conflict management do Cyburbanites have?
    First, I'd like to say I like that you recognize that some areas just may not be ready for planning. I think that that may be the problem here, that people don't want it and never will.

    Being the biggest nay sayer here I'll go first.

    I have yet to do a public meeting, that people attended, that was not contentious.

    1) That being said here a few ways that we have tried to set up public meetings:

    a) A typical one we've done is to have an informal open house late afternoon (4:30-7:00 PM) Then a informal presentation and open house in the evening. The times typically have worked well (around milking and commuting). These open houses have consisted of displaying maps and pictures of the area, diagrams and point form ideas from the documents presented, with questionnaires related to each map and set of points presented. Staff is available around the room to discuss or answer any questions people have. We also provided information sheets for people to take home and SASE so people could mail things in later if they wished. Finding from this meeting, not many people show up, costs alot of time and money to do, typically have to do in 2-3 places in a planning district. The same disturbers come to each meeting and stir the pot.

    b) We've done focus groups, addressing specific issues with those most impacted (ie soil and crop improvement associations in farming areas, wood lot co-ops in forestry areas). With these we provide the entire document to the group before the presentation, then do a general overview of the document, then do a specific overview of the items we feel may impact the interest group the most. If we've had good buy in from the group in the past we also may provide policy options for discussion. I've only done 3 or 4 of these, generally little input from the majority of the people. Seems like a way to get away from the family for a night.

    c) Formal public hearing. As required by law we do public hearings. We get up and address the items required by the Act, do an overview of the document and allow any person to speak on the item. We use flip charts so people see that we are taking notes and so that the person can comment or provide clarity on our interpretation of the items.

    2) I think you've asked the important question here. I have no formal training on dealing with confrontation. Then again living in the rural environment that I do there are few opportunities to gain it. I think we tend to forget that not all people see the benefit of what we do and it clouds our judgement when dealing with them. Maybe schools should focus more on this item.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have had good and bad experiences with public meetings. In one past community we began with a survey and followed with three work sessions including focus groups, nominal process, and other techniques. That community was open-minded; willing to consider others' opinions without prejudice. It went pretty well. For the last many years I have been in a place where almost every property owner wants to be a land baron, thinking their farmland at the edge of town is worth a quarter-million an acre, and that the whole thing should be zoned commercial. The plan board always caves in. We have over 300 acres planned for commercial at just one of four interchanges, and we don't have 15,000 people living in the city. Ridiculous? Yes, and it works against our efforts to create a compact form, achieve quality design, and create a healthy retail environment. "Public input" at the front end of the planning process is only going to bring out these same people, so that the plan will start out with this kind of nonsense built in. Working with the plan board to develop a plan first, we can put forward a proposal for the correct mix of uses, and then fight the battle to only have to change some of it over to commercial.

    [Sam's Law] Ironically, most residents in the city seem to share the opinions of staff about the over-abundance of commercial land, yet they can't be enticed to speak up about it. They will not say anything publicly when a small commercial building goes up, even though they privately disagree. They only seem to become galvanized when it is Wal-Mart. [/Sam's Law]
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