by Bob Geary
What was it that Mayor Meeker said about Raleigh's new comprehensive plan? It's only a first draft, of course, and the Planning Department staff is busy considering the comments on it that came in by the Jan. 31 deadline ... a revised draft will go to public hearing in March, with the goal -- well, Meeker's goal anyway -- of speeding it through the planning commission to final City Council adoption in June.
But the mayor said last week, in his State of the City speech, that it's already "a great plan" -- in fact, it's "the best plan of any city in the country" if he's any judge. So why delay?
But just in case he's missed something, and the plan isn't ready to be etched on stone tablets, CAC leaders in West Raleigh are holding an open forum to talk about it next Wednesday, Feb. 11, 6:30-9 pm in City Hall. (In the Council meeting chamber.) Their primary interest is in how the plan would impact West Raleigh neighborhoods, but its citywide effects are also fair game. And everyone is welcome.
To my knowledge, this is the first opportunity citizens have had to discuss the draft plan in public with each other. Planning Director Mitch Silver & staff have done yeoman work presenting the plan to folks in a variety of settings, but of necessity it's been the once-over and a one-sided conversation, with Silver & Co. doing all the talking. Now it's the public's turn.
Have you read the plan? (And/or the land-use map?) See any problems? Interested in whether your fellow citizens see any? This is not just your first chance to share a thought, it could actually prove to be your last chance unless other such forums are organized by somebody between now and June. Because just between you, me and the lamp post, the public hearing process the Council and planning commission use is anything but citizen-friendly, and is absolutely not designed to let the people engage with one another -- or think out loud about how the plan might be strengthened.
I think there are some serious issues -- some questions, anyway -- that should be addressed before this plan is adopted. They center on transit, affordable housing, and the juxtaposition of dense infill developments to older neighborhoods (i.e., "transitions"). More about them later.
But the most serious issue, in my mind, is this: For any comprehensive plan to be effective, the public must understand it, embrace it and be prepared to implement it (or support its implementation) with specific programs, policies and ultimately with zoning changes in the coming years. The public must also be on guard to defend its plan against a thousand exceptions, variances and rezonings of the kind that turned the old (but still current) comprehensive plan into swiss cheese. Otherwise, the city will continue to develop piecemeal according to the individual decisions of landowners and builders--a.k.a., the market. (And if that's all we want, any plan will do.)
The process so far has not yielded much understanding of the plan, outside the development community anyway, let alone the public passion to fight for it down the line. However great or weak the plan is otherwise, that strikes me a potentially fatal flaw.