Planning Commission deadlock – bending, even breaking?

After two (count ’em, 2) years of preparation and review, on March 18 the Planning Commission voted 4-3 to scheduled a public hearing and consider two drafts of the Land Use Chapter in the Comprehensive Plan.

EEEK!  There may be an end to the Comp Plan update process for this chapter.  We might even see a decision by the Planning Commission on land use, as early as April 15.

The key distinction between the two versions: only one defines a small number of areas where high-density development will be encouraged.

The Board of County Supervisors appointed a Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) in May, 2007, to complete the every-five-years update to the Land Use Chapter of the Comp Plan.   The LUAC recommendations in April 2008 proposed over 20 “centers of community” and “centers of commerce,” places where future development could occur.

The LUAC proposal ignored existing developed areas, and focused growth on now-vacant land.  Since April, the Planning Commission has discussed the LUAC draft.  One proposed change would replace the term “centers” with “mixed use designation areas,” and allow them in various planning districts rather than designate specific spots on the map.

This approach would mimic the LUAC chapter in one key aspect: it abdicates the county’s responsibility for determining where to grow.  Between now and 2030, county officials would wait for developers to submit projects, then determine project-by-project where growth should occur.  Instead of planning ahead, county officials would be reactive over the next 20 years.

The county needs areas of high commercial/residential density to support a transit network.  Existing residents are unlikely to migrate from low-density suburban neighborhoods to high density communities – but we could incentivize new residents to live in town centers, if we provided a good transit system.

Define transit corridors, then define places along those corridors where high-density development was appropriate.  If the projected population growth matched the capacity of the new places, then over the next 20 years traffic congestion associated with increased population might be minimized.  However, such an approach requires integrated land use and transportation planning.

The Planning Commission approved the Transportation Chapter in a December 2008 vote, but has not been able to agree on a recommendation for the Land Use Chapter for months.

To break the deadlock, county staff presented an independent proposal on February 4.  As a result of the Planning Commission’s March 18 vote, both versions of a revised Land Use Chapter will be considered at the April 15 public hearing.  You can read them at the Planning Department website.

The staff proposal offers a clear opportunity to integrate land use and transportation planning.   Only a few locations are identified as “centers of commerce and centers of community,” so citizens and developers could both predict where future development will be concentrated.

The staff plan ain’t perfect.  The link to the draft Transportation Chapter (already approved by the Planning Commission) is especially weak.  However, the dramatically reduced number of “centers”  in the staff draft would make it feasible to develop a transit system synchronized with the new development.

Bottom Line:
– we need to reduce future increases in congestion, as PW County population grows through the year 2030
– we need to reduce the cost of new transportation infrastructure in the next 20 years, so we can move people between their houses and their jobs/shopping without bankrupting the taxpayers with new road costs
– we need a Land Use Chapter to be aligned with a Transportation Chapter, defining a few transit corridors and locating new jobs/housing in those corridors

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2 comments so far

  1. […] its way, and has been for two years. The Planning Commission, having two plans to choose from as Charlie Grymes so eloquently points out in his commentary, will make their decision on April […]

  2. kgotthardt on

    I don’t want trees cut down. Can I add this to the wish list? : )


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