Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Politics vs. planning

I've had this bit in my notebook for a week, and finally have time to write about it:

Mayor Pat McCrory was right – but wrong – at last week's City Council meeting (March 9) when he badgered a planner about why planners removed a street connection from the Arrowood Transit Station Area plan.

He was right to question it and to say city planners should give their best professional planning judgment, not bow to political pressure. (At least, that's what I think he was trying to point out. And I must note that many elected officials get similarly huffy when planners act oblivious to political reality. But I digress...)

But McCrory shouldn't have hectored planner Alberto Gonzalez, who was presenting the plan.
In fact, Gonzalez ended up fainting or passing out – apparently because he hadn't eaten for some time – which made the scene even more dramatic.

The staff had originally proposed a street connection from Sharon Lakes Road to Hill Road. But neighbors in Starmount didn't like that idea. (See my Feb. 28 column, "Aiming at where the future will be," about connectivity.)

So, Gonzalez told the council, "We went back and took a closer look." And they deleted that street connection. Their thinking, he said, was that such connections are made when property is developed or redeveloped, and since the property in question was relatively newly developed, it wasn't realistic to think it would be redeveloped again any time in the near future.

McCrory wouldn't let him off the hook. He said, in essence, "Your job is to give us the planning perspective, not make judgments about what will or won't fly politically." So, he continued, was your recommendation during the public hearing incorrect? The poor planner was going to have to say, "Yes, we were wrong," or "Yes, we caved politically." I can't remember at what point he blacked out. It might have been right about then.

Warren Cooksey hopped into the discussion to note that the plan should probably have the connections that planners think are needed, because a redevelopment might occur even if it is, today, deemed unlikely, and you'd want that street connection to be in the plan.

The upshot: The City Council adopted the plan with only Cooksey voting against. The mayor doesn't have a vote on those matters. Here's a link that will let you look at the Draft Plan and the revisions. The original street connection proposed is on Page 13 of the Draft Plan.


Anonymous said...

Yep most of time they are full of total BS anyway!(the politicians) Just take a look at our admimistrator Joey Preston.Some idiots turned him loose with NO accountability to anybody,least of all the taxpayers!Planners are awesome and look out for the good of the city(county) and the majority of the people regardless of poitical affiliation!! Planners ROCK!!

Anonymous said...

Say NO to sin taxes. Abolish all income taxes and lower sales taxes!!! Enough is enough. NO MORE TAXES!

Rick said...

Did the neighbors on Starmount have an official protest petition, or the ability to file one if the connector had been in place? If so, then the planner was just using common sense and McCrory and Cooksey were just grandstanding - as usual.

If the rezoning plan had the connector against a protest petition by a neighborhood association, then they likely would have prevented the thing from happening anyway. The planner saved everyone a lot of time if that was the case.

Good work Mr Gonzales. Eat a snack next time.

Anonymous said...

Thank God our mayor and city council don't resort to Mr. Gonzales's "fainting" tactics to dodge tough questions. If you can't take the heat, get out of city hall and those cozy governmental jobs.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but notice on that map a classic example of the ability of a handful of protestors to throttle connectivity for thousands.

The potential for neighborhood politics over connecting Sharon Lakes Road with Hill Road seems petty when one considers that a sorely needed connector between Park Road and South Boulevard could have been achieved by linking Huntingtowne Farms Lane with Starbrook Drive.

Don't try to tell me that it was the need for a small bridge over that narrow section of Little Sugar Creek that stymied that relief in traffic flow.

Mary Newsom said...

Replying to Rick's question about protest petitions:
Protest petitions are a tool sometimes used by neighboring property owners during rezonings. This wasn't a rezoning case but the adoption of a plan -- a guideline document that has no legal force.
If/when someone wants to do development that requires a rezoning (much development doesn't) then a protest petition might come into play.

Rick said...

Thanks for the clarification Mary.

So, what's the big deal then?

If there was no legally enforceable regulation being discussed - just a plan and not a rezoning - then it doesn't really seem to matter.

If the "plan" says something, but that something can easily be circumvented with a rezoning protest petition it really doesn't matter if it is in the plan in the first place. If no rezoning is needed for a development, then the city can't force the developer to build the extensions - right? If they can, then the plan does have some legal weight.

It seems to me that the only way the plan matters is if the developer wants a rezoning and the city wants to use it's plan to get the developer to build the extensions as a condition of approval for the rezoning. That only works however, if the local residents don't file a protest petition. It sounded like the local residents had already voiced their concern and didn't want it in the plan. If they were that concerned about it, then they probably would have filed a protest petition against any development requiring rezonings in the future.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for Mr. Gonzalez, he was left out there to blow in the wind...the issue of the connection was made into a political football, and the planner's professional position should have been noted, and then the discussion rightly should have been taken over by the Planning Director--who's job it is to get into the political realities with the City Council.

Gonzalez' superiors should have been the ones to stand for the Mayor's criticism--they are the ones who would have overridden the initial position (undoubtedly of CDOT and Planning, among others) to have the connection in the first place, basing the change on "community pressure."

An unforseen circumstance by the senior Planning staff, probably. But should they have left a planner without a defensible position, no. His legs were chopped out from under him.