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Thread: Value of public input?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian The District's avatar
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    Value of public input?

    reading zman's post regarding townhouses in northern colorado got me thinking about the value of public input. it seems to me that public input smothers as many bad developments as it does "good" (in the social sense) developments. try to build to progressively, and people will try to shoot you out of the sky as if you're putting a glue factory in their backyard. any takes? experiences?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    My experience is that if it is something new (design-wise), than the public will hate it. BUT, if you build it (depending upon wether the application has public involvement or not) and it has a good design, than the public will think it is neat.

    I am dealing with an appeal for a residential subdivision that is in the works. This is your typical miniMcMansion subdivision built on 8-10 thousand square foot lots but by a "national award-winning builder... ". The residents in the neighboring subdivision (the same type of residential subdivision mind you) are appealing on a number of issues, basically translating into "We don't like it" (That same "I got mine" attitude, my friend!)

    I have very cynical views of public involvment. But it isn't all bad. I have had developers find out information or change the timing of the project because of neighborhood concerns. Things like this, get me extra fancing/landscaping, a reduction in number of units, or genuine warnings of soil issues in the area (I had a developer greatly increase their roadbase expenditures because of concerns from neighbors--thus hopefully ensuring good roads for the new place!)

    In short, if the public isn't asking for much, I can see good coming from it if the developer agrees. This helps build good neighboring communities. But if the public is basically asking for 230-some houses to not be built, it just wastes my time, the offices time, etc. (Perhaps I should send this post to my boss in the hopes of impementing a filing fee for submitting an appeal )

    Sorry for jumping around here, I hope somone saw where I was going...
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
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  3. #3
    Public imput is great when you get a good cross-section of the populace. More often than not this is not the case. You rarely get any input from those who support or are ambivilant about a project, only those who are opposed to the project in any form. This does not help matters at all unless you are trying to rally the public to keep Wal Mart out. In every City I have worked (ok, its only 3) there was a small but vocal group of regulars that sat in every single meeting and objected to just about anything that resulted in change. There is no value in their comments, just nonsensical rambling.

    I have found that true public input usually comes in the form of long-range planning which usually has a committe made up of different residents instead of the usual group of regulars.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I think there are a few things that really improve the public input process. The use of community councils/neighborhood groups/citizen committees is a big one. In informal meetings the residents can learn about a project, offer suggestions, etc. I have been trying for a few years to get the city I work for to create community councils. The city I live in has them and the process works. Not every person is always going to be happy, but it sure helps to get the input and to educate the public about the issues, legalities, etc. outside of a public hearing. I think public hearings are the worst place to introduce a project to the public.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    I think that sometimes use the public consultation process to whinge a bit.

    Ok just Pub. consultation is a useful too- but i found during my small stint in Development Assessment that people just want to whinge, cause they are given a direct opportunity too.

    Like in this one case- i had this couple complain that the development next door to them- a proposed 2 storey dual occupancy (demolition of a single storey dwelling) was going to interupt their free to air television signals. I mean what am i supposed to do- tell them they can built a 2 storey dwelling, when they are legally allowed too? and hello a building like that will not affect tv reception.

    But then again people can raise some good points.

    Also i hate it when us staff get bagged out in objection letters- for apparently not doing our jobs- that is not neccesary!

  6. #6
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    burn out the day...

    it's a symbol of the chaos of democracy - but in the big picture, it works

    try to see the irony in it, the humor -

    i have had people will fight having a school put in their neighborhood with their 3 little babies at their ankles - hello?

    i have had people fighting against village zoning replacing residential zoning standing in front of the village store that would have become conforming

    i have had people fight affordable housing proejcts saying, without blushing, that they had moved there from the projects and didn't want to now live next to one

    and sometimes, people just want to be able to say something and have someone listen, even if you can't change the situation, make the development(er) go away, make it better - it's all about listening

    i have had people say just that, that they wanted to be heard and they understand this person has a right to do what they want with their property within the laws - those are the great comments and i have seen developers change plans just because someone delivered their comments that way

    remember, they aren't really mad at you, even if they say they are mad at you, they are mad at the system - they want to "control everyone else but let me do what i want"

    it's very human, really - our kids do that!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    We've found a lot value in having applicant's meet with neighbors ahead of time. It won't solve all issues but lets the applicant know what the little issues are that people are concerned about (lighting, buffers, etc.). It also can soothe over some of the fear based neighborhood reaction, especially when people can see that the proposed project isn't as bad as the one in their heads. One issue is that the applicant has to figure out where to draw the line for invitations. People often get pissy about not being invited and express it at the public hearing.

    Like people have said a lot of it is mainly fear of any change, no matter what kind it is. The NIMBYism that bothers me the most personally is the fear of any non-wealthy housing (since I'm not wealthy).

  8. #8
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I think that public input is great, but the majority of the public intro. to a project needs to occur prior to any public hearing or actual construction (depending on required process).

    I have goen to a couple community meetings where I live for planning projects, and they generally go ok, but not always.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I'm going to echo seabishop's reply- we've had applicants meet with neighbors prior to filing with us and its worked out great... its the projects where people just open up their mail to find out that their world is changing that have trouble.

    Also, up to now, people have pretty much just posted about public input on specific developments. I'd like to put in a plug for public input in the larger planning process... from what i've seen, its the communities that don't ask for public input at the comp plan stage or the zoning reg stage that have big problems when they go to adopt.

    The Greater Yellowstone region, where I live, is chock full of examples where the governing body and the planning dept just wrote a plan or a code, put a couple of copies in the library to satisfy their statutory requirement, and then get completely blasted at the public hearing. Asking for public input when you're rewriting your zoning code is, i'm quickly learning, a much slower process, but it certainly makes the final public hearings go well.

    i'm working in a place where half my day seems to involve a constant idealogical defense of the discipline, so i'm learning to be very, very careful about including the general public.

  10. #10
         
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    Understand

    New to planning but I have already seen a situation develop where the "public" consists of a few individuals with very focused opinion- good/bad. I would just like to see the inclusion of a more "ecletic" group.

    Quote Originally posted by The District
    reading zman's post regarding townhouses in northern colorado got me thinking about the value of public input. it seems to me that public input smothers as many bad developments as it does "good" (in the social sense) developments. try to build to progressively, and people will try to shoot you out of the sky as if you're putting a glue factory in their backyard. any takes? experiences?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Vaughan:
    Also, up to now, people have pretty much just posted about public input on specific developments. I'd like to put in a plug for public input in the larger planning process... from what i've seen, its the communities that don't ask for public input at the comp plan stage or the zoning reg stage that have big problems when they go to adopt.
    I am not a planner, but an involved citizen newly elected to council who strayed over here from the 'Citizen Planners' forum. I keep trying to come up with a good way to educate the public about the difference between giving input when rules are being drafted and when they are simply being implemented. Maybe point out why one talkative resident may be percieved as a useful, invested community member while another gets labeled a NIMBY. I think once someone understands that his opinion is greatly desired on legislative decisions, but darned near irrelevant on administrative ones, he is much more motivated to participate in general plan amendments and subdivision ordinances and so on. And seeing this difference helps soothe that "they never listen to me anyway" feeling, as it explains why public input at the wrong level cannot legally be acted upon, and ultimately just wastes everybody's time. Has anyone figured out an effective way to get through to the general public about this?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by maximov

    I think once someone understands that his opinion is greatly desired on legislative decisions, but darned near irrelevant on administrative ones, he is much more motivated to participate in general plan amendments and subdivision ordinances and so on. And seeing this difference helps soothe that "they never listen to me anyway" feeling, as it explains why public input at the wrong level cannot legally be acted upon, and ultimately just wastes everybody's time. Has anyone figured out an effective way to get through to the general public about this?
    Not a well-thought out answer here, but i've been giving a few talks lately to watershed groups about the planning process and have been trying to hammer this home to people. You're right- there is an opportunity to comment both in the drafting stage and the implementation stage (such as when there are public hearings for variances or subdivisions), but for a lot of people, the most meaningful time to get involved is at the front end.

    If you're in a situation where its not quite time to fully update the plan or code, you could possibly consider a plan or code "revival" or some such thing where you hold workshops to revisit either one and make sure that people are happy... if you do that, make sure you invite both the general public AND the development community!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by vaughan
    If you're in a situation where its not quite time to fully update the plan or code, you could possibly consider a plan or code "revival" or some such thing where you hold workshops to revisit either one and make sure that people are happy... if you do that, make sure you invite both the general public AND the development community!

    Good idea, and really good point about involving the development community- anything that gets each side more mindful of the other's concerns, without a specific project to heat things up, will hopefully improve future interactions.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    By and large, I find negative public involvement to be the byproduct of a population that feels as though they have no say in what is being developed around them. Most often, it is residents trying to prevent something from being built when it is too late to actually do anything about it.

    The key is trying to get those who are concerned about development to channel their frustration and thoughts into the public participation process so that it is more effective.

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  15. #15
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    we require public neighborhood meetings as part of the subdivision review process - i coordinate and facilitate the meeting - it really cuts down on hearing time and often the applicant will change his plans, or at least know why it will get turned down -

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    we require public neighborhood meetings as part of the subdivision review process - i coordinate and facilitate the meeting - it really cuts down on hearing time and often the applicant will change his plans, or at least know why it will get turned down -
    Is it acutally in your regulations with specific notification criteria etc.?

    I've always thought that something like this would have benefits but might also lead to a lot of mischeif like neighbors saying they weren't property notified, or both sides disagreeing or lying or about what was said.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Planner Hottie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop
    Is it acutally in your regulations with specific notification criteria etc.?
    Where I am, public meetings are not required but some do it voluntarily because it helps smooth out the process.
    We are most likely going to be putting a meeting requirement into our new development code.

    I've always thought that something like this would have benefits but might also lead to a lot of mischeif like neighbors saying they weren't property notified, or both sides disagreeing or lying or about what was said.
    We want to require a member of staff attend the meetings, only to observe. This may end up becoming too much of a burden on staff time however.
    The reg would only require that a meeting be held, and specify who and how to notify - if no one shows up the developer has fulfilled his duty.

  18. #18
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop
    Is it acutally in your regulations with specific notification criteria etc.?

    I've always thought that something like this would have benefits but might also lead to a lot of mischeif like neighbors saying they weren't property notified, or both sides disagreeing or lying or about what was said.
    Yes, it's in my subdivision regulations (residential developments are more controversial than commercial here) - since I'm running it, my office notifies by mail the abutters within 300' and I run the meeting and take notes so it helps dispel some issues of "people going to different meetings" - at the end of the meeting, before people leave I confirm consensus points, etc.

    it can be great running your meetings because you can get away with firming things up and you can force more logical thought (well, you know)

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally posted by vaughan
    I'd like to put in a plug for public input in the larger planning process... from what i've seen, its the communities that don't ask for public input at the comp plan stage or the zoning reg stage that have big problems when they go to adopt.

    The Greater Yellowstone region, where I live, is chock full of examples where the governing body and the planning dept just wrote a plan or a code, put a couple of copies in the library to satisfy their statutory requirement, and then get completely blasted at the public hearing. Asking for public input when you're rewriting your zoning code is, i'm quickly learning, a much slower process, but it certainly makes the final public hearings go well.
    In the UK, the public consultation element has just been increased in the plan making process. However it is still very difficult to engage the public in something they see as abstract - it is only when development is happening on their doorstep that most of the public take any notice.

    I'll be honest and say one of the reasons I use this site is to see if there is any experience from over the pond that may be relevant to my work in the UK. So far, the best experience I have is from a job I had in the early 1990s where at the start of the development plan revision for the council I was working at, we went and held public meetings in each small community and used marker pens and blank plans to draw up the community's idea of future development - although to a certain extent we got the same old faces along, the process then had their buy in and they caused fewer problems when the plan was adopted.

    However, this is easier to achieve in small communities in rural Scotland than in central London where I am now working. People in the cities don't have the time or the interest to contribute, but given the possible issues that individual developments raise later in the process, this can be a head in the sand attitude to take... (having said that I have no idea what stage the development plan for the borough I am living in is at!).

    I agree fully that consultation should mean something, however it is done - I work as a consultant for a number of local authorities on various plans - often the client undertakes consultation to show it has been done rather than to get a meaningful response...

  20. #20
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Opposition

    Tanger Outlets want to build a mall about 10 to 20 minutes from where I live. Much like most development projects of this nature, they are requesting rezoning to do what they want to do. However, during the public hearing on the request, it was almost entirely in opposition to the request and the development, citing traffic as the primary concern.

    One-by-one, people who live near a proposed outlet center spoke out Monday evening, telling the Byron Township planning commission to vote down the project.
    Link To Story

    I know the person who wrote their Master Plan, so it will be interesting to hear their take on it. But from my understanding, the request met the plan so the PC acted accordingly.

    What are your thoughts when a development has a lot of opposition? How much weight do you and/or your Planning Commissions give the public comments?
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  21. #21
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Tanger Outlets want to build a mall about 10 to 20 minutes from where I live. Much like most development projects of this nature, they are requesting rezoning to do what they want to do. However, during the public hearing on the request, it was almost entirely in opposition to the request and the development, citing traffic as the primary concern.



    Link To Story

    I know the person who wrote their Master Plan, so it will be interesting to hear their take on it. But from my understanding, the request met the plan so the PC acted accordingly.

    What are your thoughts when a development has a lot of opposition? How much weight do you and/or your Planning Commissions give the public comments?
    Having worked for the Township directly to the east, I am very familiar with the area. People who live in the southern part of Kent County are very much of the mentality that it was OK for them to move there in pretty new developments, but once they are there, then no further development should occur.

    Like I always tell people, public comment is only 1 factor that a PC uses in making their decision.
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I like my state for its zoning laws. Public input cannot be the only factor in rejecting a proposal.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    In the city in which I live it is listened to when it should not be, and ignored when it is in the right.

    1. Eastern Orthodox church wants to build on a property along a county highway. Nieghbors (5-acre minimum lots) opposed. City sides with them even though the site is next to a school and across from a church. City loses RLUIPA suit and has to fork out over $300,000.
    2. Developer proposes mixed income apartments on a site zoned for multifamily. Neighbors protest that it will bring N*ggers into the community. City does not approve the plans, gets smacked upside the head by HUD for violating Fair Housing, and is forced to approve the development.
    3. Walmart proposes to replace an existing discount store by building a new supercenter backing up to a 1960's neighborhood. The property is zoned residential and was identified for residential in the comprehensive plan approved three years ago. There is tremendous opposition from the public, citing adverse impacts to adjoining properties, traffic, environmental damage (extensive woodlot), inconsistency with the plan, and the problems it will create for an already struggling commercial area once the old store closes. The rezoning is approved to allow Walmart to build.
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  24. #24
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I think often public input becomes an entrenched battle between developers and local residents because of how projects are initially presented. I say this as a developer of low income housing. One of the things we pride ourselves on is that we do development “inside out.” That is, we work with local communities very early on in the process – before we even have concrete designs or drawings even. Getting to the point of presenting a project to the Environmental Planning Commission takes a lot longer, but when done right, we show up there asking for approvals, variances, etc. WITH members of the community instead of in opposition.

    Too often developers devise projects in private and then present very complete plans, drawings, schematics, etc. to the public and hope they will get excited. But this really becomes a process of selling a product that has already been devised and not a scenario where input may be valued and integrated. People generally react defensively to this approach and I think in part that is just human nature. When changes are requested or violations of local criteria pointed out, there can be a lament from developers that “we already spent all this money developing these plans, we can’t scrap it all now!” And the two sides become polarized. Which underscores the idea of coming to the community earlier in the process.

    Public process is messy, yes, and you never get 100% consensus. But its still necessary and can be a very productive tool that really can result in quality projects. Are local communities sometimes unreasonably opposed to objectively good projects? Absolutely, but I do believe that responsibly going through the process is still important and it does not preclude also getting elected officials and other movers/shakers on board at the same time. And in reality, sometimes those are the votes that really count in getting a project done. But local buy-in is still very important and public process should constitute a “best practice” for all developers.
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