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Thread: When is a general plan not a plan?

  1. #1
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    When is a general plan not a plan?

    In 1994 our town came up with a 20-year general plan to limit growth to 25 new units per year. I didn't live here then; I moved here in 2004. The town has a population of 7800 and it is bordered on one side by a protected wetlands, which has a two-lane state highway through it from the big city 10 miles away. This is the only entrance from that direction and the traffic now backs up probably 2 miles at times if there's an event or just at rush hour. There is another state highway bisecting that going through our town and it has been seeing a lot more traffic, too, but it only backs up from about 3 to 6pm most days. The area by the wetlands is light industrial and floods occasionally. We have had floods that make that highway impassable. The city has been trying to plan for "infill" in this area with mixed-use zoning and an additional 300 housing units built over and among retail with projected increase in car trips of 8000 per day. To do this they will bring in 10 feet of fill at the easternmost edge of the wetlands and build on top. If this specific plan is approved, the general plan has to conform so it would be changed 7 years early. I went to 2 planning meetings for this area and never knew that. I talked to merchants who are struggling on the little Main Street of our town and showed them the map of the area to be developed and they didn't realize the size of this development. We are an environmentally concious population and this new area is supposed to be bike and pedestrian friendly, but with regard to traffic mitigation the specific plan says that downtowns are inherently busy places with traffic. I know that there are people who just don't like change but I'm truly not one of them; I am concerned that the rest of our town which we can't really bike in all that safely now is going to be even worse when 8000 cars push more cars through our neighborhoods.
    Just to confuse us more, the city is blocking a development that was started in accordance with the general plan 10 years ago which has 100 - 150 units on the border of the wetlands but south of the "infill" area they seem to prefer. I think they cite environmental damage potential and traffic as their reasons. It just doesn't make sense to me. Does it make sense to any of you with planning expertise?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Wow - that's a lot of information.

    Would you prefer a response from a planner in Maine, Ontario, Great Britain or New Zealand? We also can offer the services of a geography student in Chile.

    In all seriousness, the most usefull response will probably come from a California planner with knowlege of state laws pertaining to general plans and their local implimentation.

    Good luck.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by smalltowngirl View post
    If this specific plan is approved, the general plan has to conform so it would be changed 7 years early.
    California State law allows a general plan to be amended up to 4 times per calender year, so your out of luck there. Just make sure that the General Plan's goals, policies, and objectives are consistent with the Specific Plan. However, an amendment usually takes care of. The General Plan is a blueprint for development and is never set in stone. Remember, development is not a right in California, it is a privilege. So with that said, the development has to navigate through all the proper channels.

    Quote Originally posted by smalltowngirl View post
    I am concerned that the rest of our town which we can't really bike in all that safely now is going to be even worse when 8000 cars push more cars through our neighborhoods.
    8,000 car trips aren't a whole lot of car trips unfortunately. And i am sure the incremental trips added to the overall scheme of things doesn't mean a whole since a majority of trips probably go to Santa Rosa or SSU anyways. In addition, you may get a reduction of trips because of the mixed use factor. Yes, the two highways are heavily impact during peak hours, but that's a caltrans issue, not a city issue and Caltrans may ultimately have the greater say during the EIR process, so use their comments to your advantage when they are released.

    Quote Originally posted by smalltowngirl View post
    Just to confuse us more, the city is blocking a development that was started in accordance with the general plan 10 years ago which has 100 - 150 units on the border of the wetlands but south of the "infill" area they seem to prefer. I think they cite environmental damage potential and traffic as their reasons.
    I don't know your City's politics very will, but i am sure something smells funny (developer interest probably) if this is the case. One thing you need to take note is not all wetlands are created equal. I know we should protect most wetlands, but someone of them are just plan junk imo because they do not fully connect with a riparian system etc. See if that project or the Specific Plan (which more than likely did) has established Rapanos to find out which ones can be saved and which ones can go. The agency responsible for this is the Army Corp of engineers. Just because development occurs near wetlands, doesn't necessarily mean they will get destroyed. The Department of Fish and Game has strict setback rules for the development near wetlands, and a good design project can take those setbacks into account a create a very vibrant project.

    You still have avenues to exhaust if you wish to make your voice heard. Submit written comments on the EIR prior to 45 days after its release. The City must submit a written response to your comments on the EIR only, not the Specific Plan.

    Attend the planning commission hearing and City Council hearings. You are allowed time to comment as well.

    I may sound like i am pro development. To me there is good development and bad development. Without seeing specifics of a project, i can't judge the project, i am only shooting the breeze. Your responses are typical NIMBY response for projects without seeing or reading the details of the project. Before crying foul because of traffic and environmental issues, read both the EIR and the Specific Plan and make the judgment from there.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  4. #4
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    Thanks!

    I am brand new to this and alarmed at the scope of the project (and the amount of information to try to understand) but I appreciate your help. I didn't realize this would go out to the whole world - so glad someone in CA is here.

    8000 more car trips isn't a lot? I guess I do live in a small town because it seems like a lot. Everyone I talk to says development is ok as long as we don't turn into a Carmel or Mendocino. You sound reasonable to me and that's what we want everyone to be. It just seems like all the information we get is plans for the wonderful without anything realistic and really nothing at all relating to the impact of this project on the existing residential areas. Perhaps that is discussed at the planning commision meetings which I reckon I'll be haunting until this starts to make sense. Or I guess it should be in the EIR, yes? Thanks again.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have shopped at your Whole Foods, and better yet, the fruit stand north of town.

    The highway through town is a an alternative for commuters headed north, and does already have heavy traffic. The problem is that there are very few alternative north-south route that might handle any of the traffic. Any growth is going to worsen the problem, but what will hurt you most is the growth north of you, that you have no control over. Sorry.

    Mixed use always sounds sexy to planners, but we tend not to examine too closely. I would wonder what the impact of the new retail and office space will be on the community. Only 300 housing units will not support much new retail or service business. What will happen if this new center competes with the downtown?

    Has the city considered having an economic impact analysis done by a neutral party? It would be nice to go into this project with everyone's eyes open as to the potential impacts.

    (BTW - I do these sort of impact analyses. )
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  6. #6
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    Economic impacts

    Many of us are concerned about this issue, too, and found it strange that retail is proposed for the majority of it even as our Main Street retailers struggle. I'm glad there are folks like you who do the business plan side of this. North of here in the town of Windsor a developer built an "old town" with 100,000 sq.ft. mixed use on a new "town green." The city of Windsor has 26000 people and now there are vacancies in the retail shops. Across the freeway are the big box stores where people actually shop. Our town is 7800 (but the city says it serves 50,000 in the surrounding area) and wants to build 391,000 sq.ft. of retail space along with the 300 housing units.
    You've been here. It's a funky town and most of us like it. We're not opposed to improvement, just a little worried that it's a bit much. Then I see "make no small plans" and wonder....

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    As i have state before, a financial study/report is required by state law if this is a specific plan process. If this isn't a specific plan, than a financial study isn't required, but probably in the City's best interest for a development of 391,000 sf of retail space. What are some of the stats on this project? Is this truly what the project is proposing, because that is an awful lot of retail for such a small town, and truly mean awful. What is the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) projected at?Even your basic community commercial area built out to true and tried car oriented development tops out at about 200,000 sf at 20 acres. Is there a website set up for the project?

    As for the downtown merchants, do they have a merchants association set up? It is all about how you package your downtown to be as a destination point and alternative to the big box stores. When i lived in San Luis Obispo, the downtown merchants had their act together and were able to stave off a now defunct mall, two new shopping centers, a costco, and probably will continue to do well with new construction of retail spaces. It can be done.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  8. #8
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    Oh my. I am slogging my way through the draft specific plan; the final specific plan and the final EIR are supposed to be done in February or March. So far I don't see a lot of details about anything. There's a huge section called the Smart Code which seems to be green building techniques. Here is something: TABLE 6-1 NORTHEAST AREA GROWTH ASSUMPTIONS
    Land Use
    Specific Plan
    Assumption
    Residential Development 300 units
    Non-Residential Development1 391,000 sf
    Light Industrial Demolition 153,000 sf
    Commercial Demolition 74,000 sf
    Residential Demolition 2 units
    1 Includes retail, civic, hotel and hostel uses (does not include parking square footage)

    Ok, so now I see that the whole non-residential is 391,000 sq.ft. In the back is a table that has estimated new development in 3 phases: retail is 52,500 in phase 1, 157,100 after phase 2 and 299,000 after phase 3. The civic center is to be 85,000 sq.ft. and includes staff offices, formal city council chambers (they meet in the former teen center now and there is plenty of room). Most of this discusses how market forces will dictate what is developed but the infrastructure must be done first and the cost shared by the developer and city with redevelopment funds. The financial analysis section was at the very end - nothing was there. I guess we'll see that in the final. I'll look around and try to find evidence of those other reports you mentioned. Thanks!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Is there a link online? Also, smart code is being used, so going to assume that the big dogs (Duany) is behind this one, so going to assume this is a very pretty looking project. Since you did mention phasing going to also assume that the project is going to be phased over a time period of 10-15 years. You will find your details to the magnitude of development type and how it will develop by reading the smart code section. IMO these guys really know their stuff and do wonderful looking projects on paper (whether the City implements it that way is a different story). The devil is in the details in this one. Start with immersing yourself with the code.

    http://www.smartcodecentral.org/
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  10. #10
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    Oh my. I am slogging my way through the draft specific plan; the final specific plan and the final EIR are supposed to be done in February or March. So far I don't see a lot of details about anything. There's a huge section called the Smart Code which seems to be green building techniques. Here is something: TABLE 6-1 NORTHEAST AREA GROWTH ASSUMPTIONS
    Land Use
    Specific Plan
    Assumption
    Residential Development 300 units
    Non-Residential Development1 391,000 sf
    Light Industrial Demolition 153,000 sf
    Commercial Demolition 74,000 sf
    Residential Demolition 2 units
    1 Includes retail, civic, hotel and hostel uses (does not include parking square footage)

    Ok, so now I see that the whole non-residential is 391,000 sq.ft. In the back is a table that has estimated new development in 3 phases: retail is 52,500 in phase 1, 157,100 after phase 2 and 299,000 after phase 3. The civic center is to be 85,000 sq.ft. and includes staff offices, formal city council chambers (they meet in the former teen center now and there is plenty of room). Most of this discusses how market forces will dictate what is developed but the infrastructure must be done first and the cost shared by the developer and city with redevelopment funds. The financial analysis section was at the very end - nothing was there. I guess we'll see that in the final. I'll look around and try to find evidence of those other reports you mentioned. Thanks!

  11. #11
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    A link

    I am new to this and I guess the plan is online for public viewing so I suppose it's ok to post it here. If the city is flooded with requests to consult afterwards from everyone from CA to NZ I reckon they can manage. It's at our city's website and there are many, many documents relating to it there.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    I reviewed the specific plan last night and I pretty much determined the following:

    1) it is a good plan. Well designed and good use of the smart code.

    2) It protects open space at the edge of the project

    3) The residential units you state is the total cap. At 300 units for the entire lifetime with no annual cap, it provides for precious housing that is needed and may help the cost come down because the market has additional units to satisfy those few buyers that remain in this slow housing market, but that would change if the market picks up.

    4) It allows for a variety of housing options, which i am quite sure your city doesn't have which in turn opens up some of the affordability to your already expensive town (i have visited, and my best friend who is an engineer can't afford a place of his own and makes good money).

    6) By utilizing the smart code, this project allows City staff to make informed recommendations when dealing with the treatment of new buildings which abutting existing development to the east.

    7) This plan can be used a jump start, not a competitor for the downtown. See it as an extension rather than as direct competition. There are no big box stores proposed, but rather a dense urban core is proposed which is a great thing for those retailers to attract additional sales and generate sales tax for your city.

    8) flooding issues are dealt with building elevation requirements per the flood zone. This is found in the SP.

    Yes there probably are some traffic and environmental concerns regarding air quality and flooding, but the positives of this project imo outweigh the negatives. As with most residents do when projects come up that will turn their small town into the next Carmel, Sacramento, Folsom, Roseville, Berkeley, name any other city, you are afraid of change. You should embrace a project like this one, they don't come that often and it sounds as if the City has been on top of informing the citizens for quite sometime with their lengthy discussion of outreach. Remember, this isn't going to happen overnight, and it is not a bit much of development. It is phased and it is programmed to be a well designed project to compliment what is already in tack. Good Luck with your future NIMBY causes.

    Here is the link to the SP
    http://www.ci.sebastopol.ca.us/pdfs/planning/NE%20Specific%20Plan%208-15-07.pdf
    Last edited by Raf; 06 Dec 2007 at 11:55 AM. Reason: added link to SP
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  13. #13
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    Nimby?

    I guess I came here to gain understanding and now I think I do. It's not change I fear, it's the effects of a plan that doesn't take into consideration anything other than what is within its borders. The citizens did go to meetings and their concerns are not reflected in the plan. They went because they care about the city and understand that revitalization of an area with broken down abandoned buildings is a good thing. But a good plan will not turn our little town with natural (wetlands, floodplain) and unnatural (two state highways that can't be widened) restrictions into a Berkeley or a Carmel. If we wanted to live in those types of environments, we would and could. To those of us who chose to live here, and who want to plan for living in a nice place, "traffic and environmental concerns regarding air quality and flooding" are real and they were dismissed, pretty much the way you just dismissed them. I'd love to know why they are so easily brushed aside. The town is so small, everything is in everyone's back yard. It's all connected and to me, that's the reason to address these concerns in a plan, not ignore them and create more problems.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by smalltowngirl View post
    It's not change I fear, it's the effects of a plan that doesn't take into consideration anything other than what is within its borders.
    This is the main point of contention - in speaking out against the plan, are you taking into consideration anything other than what happens inside the borders of your city?

  15. #15
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    Actually, I am. There are lots of people who live out in the surrounding countryside and they object to the extra traffic, too, but they don't feel like they can say anything because they don't live in town.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by smalltowngirl View post
    Actually, I am. There are lots of people who live out in the surrounding countryside and they object to the extra traffic, too, but they don't feel like they can say anything because they don't live in town.
    Actually, the traffic reports must take into account the regional effects on traffic on regional thoroughfares through 2030 and beyond.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

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