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Thread: That AHA! moment

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    That AHA! moment

    Something happened the other night at our planning board meeting that made me gasp and lean forward in my chair. Here's the rundown- there are several members on our planning board that have joined the board over the past year so as to stop any kind of regulation. They're completely pro-property rights to the exclusion of any community-oriented regulation and they make no bones about expressing this desire. Nothing new with that situation.

    Tuesday, however, was fascinating. A one-lot minor subdivision was before the board and seemed, at first, simple enough. The board appeared to be barely paying attention as they prepared their rubber stamps for the application. As the night progressed, however, more and more of the neighbors came forward and began talking about real problems: the road was already too narrow for our current standards and two different firetrucks couldn't pass at the same time. The cul-de-sac wasn't wide enough for people to properly turn around in and folks were consistently sliding into the ditch in the winter. There was only a single access (also against code). Several other points (good points that weren't just NIMBY reactions) were brought up which, essentially, showed that this was an unsafe subdivision. As the board discussed all this, you could visibly see the property-rights advocates struggling with all this as their values (that people should be able to do whatever they wanted with their property) crashed up against the practicalities of the situation (it was already an unsafe subdivision and they were about to make it that much more unsafe). They eventually approved the subdivision with conditions, but in my opinion, it was a huge step for them to realize that yes, this is why we try and do good planning.

    Anyway, as always, watching the community dynamics was fascinating and I was wondering if anybody else had stories of these little moments when folks who are ordinarily dead-set against government regs or government planning had a sudden revelation. Any thoughts on how to work with people like this and speed up the process?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Tuesday night, had to present our proposed Village Center By-law to a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee to prepare it for Town Meeting. We have one member of the Finance Committee who is a realtor/developer who is generally against all regulations (the guy is a former Planning Board member from way back and drafted much of the town's early zoning by-laws in town, he is also former state representative who served on a legislative panel in the 70's that redrafted the state zoning code). He prefaces his comments by saying "I normally support zoning changes that reduce development restrictions and allow for increases in density........BUT...."

    He proceeds to attack the zoning by-law proposal because it will increase the workload for the Board of Health for septic review etc. It did not matter that the Board of Health has endorsed the rezoning by providing the economic incentive to improve outdated septic systems in an otherwise economically stagnant now mostly commercial district.

    Interestingly, the "anti-development" groups have endorsed this increase in intensity of development, while the usual pro-development forces are opposing it. Something about walkable village centers do not appeal to developers and does appeal to the preservationists!

    When I get a chance I will try to post some photos of Dennisport and what it could look like with this by-law in place.
    Planning is much like acting, as my old theater professor used to say, "If you sin, sin boldly, only you know if you are ad libbing." I follow this adage almost daily.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vaughan
    Any thoughts on how to work with people like this and speed up the process?
    I don't have any stories like that but there are some things you can do to help support the process:
    a) First and foremost, treat them with respect as human beings -- which is not an easy thing to do when you fundamentally disagree with them. But if you are seeing them in your mind as "evil incarnate", that will effect how you treat them. And if you are closed-minded about them, they will be closeminded about you. In contrast, people who feel that their side is heard and respected are much less likely to find you threatening and much more likely to really listen to you when you speak.

    b) "Keep Talking" -- assume they just do not know any better, it is your job to inform them, but do so without treating them like they are "stupid" and without violating the first rule (ie do not assume that they MUST eventually come around: honor their right to choose, even if you do not agree with their decision). If you do the first one right (above), and are firm but non-confrontational with the second, most folks will begin to modify their stance.

    c) Accept that the deepest changes take time. Things which grow gradually are much more likely to take root deeply.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    I don't have any stories like that but there are some things you can do to help support the process:
    a) First and foremost, treat them with respect as human beings -- which is not an easy thing to do when you fundamentally disagree with them. But if you are seeing them in your mind as "evil incarnate", that will effect how you treat them. And if you are closed-minded about them, they will be closeminded about you. In contrast, people who feel that their side is heard and respected are much less likely to find you threatening and much more likely to really listen to you when you speak.

    b) "Keep Talking" -- assume they just do not know any better, it is your job to inform them, but do so without treating them like they are "stupid" and without violating the first rule (ie do not assume that they MUST eventually come around: honor their right to choose, even if you do not agree with their decision). If you do the first one right (above), and are firm but non-confrontational with the second, most folks will begin to modify their stance.

    c) Accept that the deepest changes take time. Things which grow gradually are much more likely to take root deeply.
    d) If the above don't work, just wait 'til someone's ox gets gored. Then they will remember who they were talking to and what they had been talking about. And it will all finally begin to make some sense.

    Been there, doin' that right now with subdivision regulation in one of our towns.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Not me. I've always worked in places where board members say stuff on the record like: "Ya cain't tell a man what to do with his own land" and "Well, the state will probably find us not in compliance on this one, but I'm going to make a motion for approval". No lightbulbs going off in these places!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Michelle- I think that you are definitely right as far as treating them as people rather than enemies... we are all in this together and that's part of what makes it fascinating. Some people are bound and determined to make as much money as they can and then cut and run, some people are still caught 10-20 years in the past and think that we have no need for good planning or regs or whatever, and then some people legitimately have the community good in mind. Planning is, ultimately, about community and if you can step back and not get extremely emotional about the process, its fascinating stuff.

    Then again, I've only been doing this fulltime for a few months. Let's hope i can keep my good attitude.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess
    ... "Ya cain't tell a man what to do with his own land" ....
    Whoa!! A guy said almost the same thing to me that this afternoon. I responded by asking him what he would do if I moved next door to him and started a pig farm and automobile junk yard. His response: tha pry vette ecnomiks wool take car ah that sit-ya-a-shone.... at least that's what I think he said.

    Sorry, got really off topic here.
    Last edited by Richmond Jake; 02 Sep 2004 at 9:30 PM. Reason: sending my regrets

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vaughan
    Then again, I've only been doing this fulltime for a few months. Let's hope i can keep my good attitude.
    Keeping a good attitude is largely a choice. Yes, we all get bent out of shape sometimes, lose our cool in the heat of the moment, etc. But, long-term, whether you keep carrying that anger or find a place to put your baggage down is largely up to you. There are plenty of inspirational books, religious or philosophical traditions, etc. that address how to cleanse one's mind and emotions of the day-to-day crap that we inevitably accumulate if we actually have a life. I don't espouse any one of them in particular. But I do espouse the cleansing process itself, whether you use prayer or meditation or creative visualization or whatever.

    Idealism that cannot survive the test of reality is not all that idealistic. It is merely naivity. When you can stick to your ideals after having your @$$ thoroughly kicked, then you can state with conviction that you really believe all that warm-fuzzy, idealistic Stuff.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess
    Not me. I've always worked in places where board members say stuff on the record like: "Ya cain't tell a man what to do with his own land" and "Well, the state will probably find us not in compliance on this one, but I'm going to make a motion for approval". No lightbulbs going off in these places!
    Don't forget the ever popular

    "A mean's gotta make a livin' "

    Still waiting for that aha moment to happen to me. Considering that one municipalitie won't pass well head protection zoning, after the worst public health disaster in canadian history, I doubt I'll get to see it here.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  10. #10
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    What about workshops and educational tools to help non-professional planners and board members to better understand why we do what we do when we make these recommendations? I know that the PA chapter of the APA has the Master Planner program that is one night a week, 4 weeks, in three sets (total of 16 classes) to get a certificate. It is not geared to professionals, but does give a great overview of why we plan, what we need to look at for development plans, and what things to take into consideration when making a decision.

    Do any other states have programs like this sponsored by the APA?
    Trusting a DC politician with your money is like trusting a hungry dog with a raw steak.

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