One-way streets downtown, devising a meaningful land-use plan that serves as our blueprint for growth and modifying our decision-making process for development projects to allow more public participation are just a few of the items we’ll discuss tomorrow night at a special session of the Board of Commissioners.
The purpose of the meeting is to lay out our major goals for the coming year. The land-use plan is at the top of my list. The state’s 20 coastal counties are required to devise such plans by the state’s Coastal Area Management Act, which the legislature passed in 1972. The idea was well meaning: Give communities an opportunity to plan their futures by deciding where growth should occur and what form it should take. To prevent plans from becoming outdated and stagnant, the law required that they be updated every five years.
As with so many well-intended government ideas, this one went south pretty quickly. It turned out that most communities didn’t like charting their future. Doing it right was hard work and meant taking uncomfortable stands by telling politically connected, powerful people that maybe building that condo project or shopping center along that waterway wasn’t a good idea.
Soon, then, communities started taking the easy way out. They hired consultants who carved out a niche business producing boilerplate plans that meet the law’s requirements but manage to offend no one. They contain no policy directives and can be changed on 3-2 votes. Few are worth all the trees that were sacrificed to create them.
The state, tired of the charade, changed the rules a few years ago. Now, communities are no longer required to update their plans. Those that do can get a state grant to help defray the cost.
Our plan is almost nine years old. Like most, it’s not worth much. But we got some state money and will try and do it right this time. That means producing a plan that really is a blueprint for future growth, that identifies the types of development we desire and where it will go. An effective plan contains broad policy directives that guide our development ordinances. The plan could, for instance, direct the town to preserve green spaces and wetlands and reduce stormwater runoff. Maybe we desire bike paths and sidewalks. Our ordinances would then be rewritten to meet those goals.
The land-use plan is the bedrock on which our development policies rest. The commissioners can’t rezone land or approve projects that are inconsistent with the plan.
Doing it right will require the commitment of the commissioners and your involvement. This is, after all, your plan, your vision of what you want our town to look like in five years. I hope we will appoint a steering committee to guide the development of the plan. Let me know if you would like to be on it. We’ll also have a series of public meetings to get your ideas. Attend them. The plan will only be as good as the effort we put into it. If we screw it up again, we’ll not likely to get another opportunity to fix it.
I’ve not been shy about stating my displeasure with the special-use permit process we’ve devised to handle many development decisions. You can find my recent post here for more details. We must modify the process to allow more public participation. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but I hope the discussion starts Tuesday.
Traffic flow through downtown will likely be an emotional subject. Whether to switch to one-way traffic through our narrow, downtown streets is a debate we first had in the 1990s. I’ve heard from people on both sides of the issue. Some can get right passionate about it. Though I’m open minded about the outcome, I think this is a discussion we must have because traffic through downtown can be jammed on summer days and it’s only a matter of time before a serious mishap occurs.
Our meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at Town Hall. I hope to see you there.