Picking battles

Picking one’s battles is different from picking a fight – the former is the judicious selection of which issues to champion and the latter is looking for trouble. I feel like I am picking both a battle and a fight now that the land development regulations are moving slowly toward final review and adoption.

Battle: Yes, land development regulations are important. We adopted a new Comprehensive Plan in 2008 which takes a bold position about how and where Northfield should grow.   Northfield should grow like the north part of “my” Ward 2 with its grid pattern of streets, sidewalks, homes close to and oriented toward the street, etc. and less like the south part of Ward 2 with its culs de sac, homes set back from street, with the rear of houses facing parks and streets.  Northfield should grow more like downtown than Highway 3.   The city should concentrate on infill and redevelopment not growth at the edges of town (with the NW annexation area being an exception I still question).  Getting this development pattern to happen means the zoning and land development regulations have to encourage or require building placement which faces streets, limits and camouflages parking lots, narrows streets, allows mixing uses (housing with commercial/retail uses in the same building/development – again, think “Downtown Northfield”), and fosters the creation of public spaces and walkable neighborhoods.  AND does it without imposing a large procedural or monetary cost on developers to accomplish these goals.   See the links about land use and smart growth on my Interesting Links page for additional background)

The Land Use Advisory Group which was formed to provide input for writing the regulations had its last meeting yesterday.  This group included representatives from city boards and commissions, local builders, architects, and engineers as well as city staff and a Council representative – first Dixon Bond and then me.    The developer and architect input was very helpful – these folks are the ones who could say: “Well, if you have that regulation, this is what I’ll have to do to meet it in terms of my cash flow, time line, etc. and here’s what the outcome will be.”   (For those who may be worrying that we are bending over backwards to serve developers, you are partially right.  My goal is to establish clear standards for the kind of development Northfield wants and then make it as easy, predictable and quick for developers to do what we want).

I’ve wanted to rewrite the land development regulations since 2001 when I joined the Planning Commission.  We adopted a 2001 Comp Plan and…did nothing about the regulations which actually make a Plan reality (and made a lot of iffy decisions engendered by the mismatch between Plan and Code).    Now we’ve adopted the 2008 Comp Plan – a much better plan than the 2001 model – and it is crucial to bring the goals and vision down to earth with regulations.  This is a battle worth fighting.

Fight:  Now that we have a draft of new regulations from the Consultant Wendy Moeller of  McBride Dale Clarion out of Cincinnati – a very rough draft – and the Land Use Advisory Group has finished its meetings, what happens next? [the draft is not available on-line that I know of]

City Planner Dan Olson is recommending (in the report for this week’s worksession) that the Planning Commission review the draft, that we hold a few public/community meetings, hold the legally required public meeting, Planning Commission recommends adoption and the Council adopts the regulations by October.   Boards and Commissions such as the EQC, HRA and EDA would be explicitly excluded on the grounds that these boards already had buy-in via the Land Use Advisory Group.

I think this recommendation should be ignored.

The Land Use Advisory Group did not systematically review the draft to determine how well it carries out the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, they were still discussing other Big Issues in the regulations yesterday.

We need our boards and commissions to carefully review the regulations for how well they implement the Comp Plan goals related to that board’s expertise – for the HRA, how do the regulations “ensure opportunities for development of alternative housing types and styles”  or “encourage developments with a mix of housing price ranges”?

We could also ask the NDDC and Chamber to review them.  The Colleges are already slated to get a look at them.

I don’t want to pick a fight with staff or other Council members, but this is an important enough battle that I will fight (diplomatically, I hope).  We’re at that point in this project when I think pretty much everyone, me included, would like to see it Done.   The Comp Plan/Regulation process has been going on for almost 3 years now.    But it’s Not Done Yet.

One thought on “Picking battles

  1. Once again I congratulate you for being willing to fight the battle worth fighting…
    The problem is, how will you even have a chance of winning unless you can get others on the council to join the regiment?

    That’s a tough one. I don’t see the three returning councilors joining in your ‘regiment’; they’re all too staff oriented. And you are right to say that everyone would like to see this process completed; it’s been a long time.

    Where are the votes in the new councilors? Well, you’ve already got the general’s stars on, but I think only C. Zweifel is a likely side-by-side recruit. C. Pownell worries me, as does the Mayor, on this issue.

    We’ll just have to see who on the council will ‘fight’ to support the Boards and Commissions, and feel that a process that has this excruciatingly long cannot possibly be even more painful than it has already been.

    I just hope you’re not trying to hold the pass at Thermopylae, all by yourself.

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