The recent “restructuring” of the planning function by the City Council is an extremely significant, if not controversial, action. Corey Young’s report in the Argus Courier provides the details for those who may have missed this event.
Strong passions were exhibited on both sides during the “debate” preceding the 4 to 3 Council vote to eliminate the current Planning Commission as well as the Site Plan and Architectural Review Committee (SPARC).
As a consequence, a new Planning Commission will be appointed to review development applications. The City Clerk is currently taking applications for seats on this new commission. The deadline is June 29, 2009. Thereafter, the City Council will select the members of the new commission from the applicant pool
Given the intensity of the debate, it is clear there is a rigid 4 to 3 split over the appropriateness of this action. At one level, it is a continuation of the so-called pro development and anti development debate. At another level I detect strong odors of the old West Side versus East Side perceptions in the wind.
I accept the proposition that the decision to restructure the planning function was motivated by a genuine desire to streamline the process. It is silly to debate whether or not it should have been done…
Appointing a new Planning Commission is not going to be a simple matter.
- Will the Council attempt to preserve the institutional memory as well as the work on applications in process by appointing those who served on the now abolished committees?
- Will they instead appoint new people to these positions?
- Will they merely appoint a mix that reflects the 4 to 3 Council split?
The new commission must have credibility if it is to have a chance to succeed.
Given the genuine passions on both sides, I see no reason not to expect the 4 to 3 divide to continue to manifest itself when it comes to selecting the members of the new commission. The result will be a single entity with no more “credibility” than before. It will be seen as “fair and honest” by the 4 (and their supporters) and an anti development power grab by the 3 (and their supporters).
In short, no matter how well intended, I fear that the public perceptions generated by the process will outweigh and overcome the motives and objectives of those seeking the change.
This should give serious pause to those public-spirited applicants for the new commission.
I understand and respect the passions and views of both sides. However it is just another game of winners and losers. Given the nature of our political processes, this is to be expected.
The only chance to avoid this result is if both sides holster their rhetorical guns and try to find a way to create a new commission that will not be perceived as being loaded one way or the other.
Otherwise, it will be … Business as usual…Some will win. Some will lose. The rest of us will keep score.