The Fog of Plans (I)

Here’s the scenario: you read a notice or receive an email that there is a public hearing/public meeting/open house/committee discussion/council vote coming up about The Plan. Do your eyes cross? Do you experience a sense of disorientation? Déja vu? If so, you are not alone. Over the last several years, Ann Arbor citizens have been bombarded with a whole series of new plans, most of which affect the way our city will grow or evolve in the future. This year alone, we are simultaneously considering A2D2 Zoning (downtown), A2D2 Design Guidelines, Area, Height and Placement zoning changes, and a consolidated master plan. Plus, there is a committee considering changes in R4C/R2A zoning districts and we are beginning to hear about new initiatives based on the just-passed Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update.

I call this the “Fog of Plans” (on analogy to the “Fog of War” ) because the pace of change and the many different details and considerations involved, the number of people and institutions involved, the implications and possible outcomes, make it difficult for individual citizens to keep up with all the different plans being considered, much less to read, consider, and appear at public meetings and hearings to give appropriate citizen feedback. As we discussed in an earlier post about plans, these can have serious implications for the future.

This post is the first of a series that will enumerate and discuss these plans.  Links to plans and other important documents will be placed on the Planning Page.  Today’s tidbits (bearing no resemblance at all to anything grilled) on the page are the different chapters of the City of Ann Arbor Master Plan Land Use Element, commonly called the “consolidated master plan”.

Here’s what the introduction says about this plan:

In 2007, City staff proposed consolidating the four existing area plans into one master plan document. One document could be updated more quickly and efficiently than updating four area plans. The consolidation would be the first of two major phases. The first phase consist of:
a) combining the substantive elements of all four area plans into one document,
b) updating the demographic information, and
c) creating new graphic material.
The second phase of the process would include the development of new land use recommendations for large sites and major corridors. Staff presented the concept to City Council in early 2007 and received direction to proceed. Extensive public involvement was involved with the creation of all four area plans. Two public hearings are included during the consolidation process.

The Planning Commission assigned the initial review of the draft plan to the Master Plan Revisions Committee. The committee reviewed and edited the document. The plan was then brought before the full Planning Commission for review. A public hearing was held to receive public comment on the draft plan. The Planning Commission approved the plan on May 5, 2009. City Council held a public hearing on the draft plan and approved it on June 15, 2009.

The timeline has changed since that last paragraph was written.  The Planning Commission did indeed hold a public hearing on May 5, but the city attorney’s office requested that the PC should pass a more explicit resolution than it did.  This happened on October 6, 2009.  One of the lines of the resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, The City of Ann Arbor Master Plan: Land Use Element will replace four area plans: South Area Plan (1990), Central Area Plan (1992), West Area Plan (1995), and Northeast Area Plan (2006), into one comprehensive land use plan which will facilitate regular updates;

Did you get that?  This plan will supercede four existing area plans.  And yet there has been very little opportunity for the public in these four areas to weigh in on any changes.  Traditionally, master plans are changed only after extensive public discussion.

Of course, that would not be needed if this were merely a collation of the existing plans.  But based on a brief scanning of the document, I believe that we will find many new policy initiatives embedded in it. Among other things, it has a freshly written vision statement that emphasizes transportation to a degree that at least three of the plans did not, and a series of goals and objectives.  It also includes policy recommendations like making the Lowertown area into a TIF zone that are worth some additional discussion.  Some of the implementation goals and actions sound a lot like what we have been hearing at the AHP meetings.  And yet the only opportunities for the public to have input are the Planning Commission public hearing and the Council public hearing.

Here’s a recommendation: look at least at the parts of the consolidated plan that affect you and the area where you live. If you are a “planwise person”, perhaps you even have a copy of the existing area plan.  (They are available on the city website.) Do you see anything that sends up a red flag?

Note that the citywide zoning map on The Planning Page has a great feature; with Acrobat Reader, you can blow up the section of the city where you live and check the zoning.  I noticed that a couple of parks in my area were not zoned as Public Land.

The plan is scheduled to come to Council in November.

UPDATE: After we posted the consolidated plan online, Planning found the time to reformat the document so that it is accessible.  It can be found by chapters on the Planning page of the city website.

SECOND UPDATE: The consolidated plan is on the agenda of the November 5, 2009 City Council meeting.  Recall that by custom, the “old” council has one more meeting after the November elections, after which the “new” council (just elected or re-elected) is seated.  A great time for mischief, as outgoing councilmembers have absolutely no motivation to kowtow to voters’ wishes any more.  I hope that the council has the grace to table it and also postpone the scheduled public hearing.  Right, a public hearing is scheduled.  Didn’t you hear?

The memorandum by Jayne Miller explaining the process and reasoning behind the consolidated plan is here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Neighborhoods

5 Comments on “The Fog of Plans (I)”

  1. Jack Eaton Says:

    When I asked the Interim Director of Planning for a document showing the additions to and subtractions from the 4 area plans made when consolidating them into this single master plan, I received an email that said:

    “I checked with staff and determined we do not have a “mark-up” version of the plan. Two of the plans (South and Central) were not in an accessible digital format, so staff used the Northeast Area Plan as a template and added in sections from the older plans. These sections were added largely verbatim after review by the Planning Commission’s Master Plan Revisions committee. The committee met about a half dozen times over the past year to develop the document that Planning Commission approved last week.”

    The staff developed the proposed Master Plan without making a record of the changes being made to the existing plans. The Planning Commission approved the proposed combined plan without any reference document showing the changes. Now the City Council will be asked to approve the combined plan without having a document that shows what was added and what was removed.

    Is this the work of professionals? Should this be how our local democracy works? I think not.

  2. Tom Whitaker Says:

    I too, am very concerned about the master plan consolidation since the only way to know for sure what has been added or subtracted to/from the area plans is to go through line-by-line and compare it for oneself.

    I don’t understand why this consolidation needs to take place before the next round of plan updates. And if staff really thinks it is necessary, then why can’t we see a version of the old plans with mark-ups so that we know exactly what has been done to them? Is this a simple reformatting, or is there something more sinister at play? Has new language been slipped in now in order to make future changes seem less dramatic?

    City Council should demand that a marked-up copy of the existing plans be made available to the public, and if we find there have been too many drastic changes, they should reject this back-door revision.

  3. John Floyd Says:

    At the AHP presentation at Cobblestone Farm last month, it seemed that the city planners were on a mission to make the city able to accommodate a much larger population than is here today, both day time commuters and actual residents. My sense is that this drives everything they do, and that the staff that I saw at Cobblestone had been given marching orders by someone to impose the Northeast Area Plan on the rest of the city because it is the most “transit friendly” of the four area plans.

    This won’t go away until more people are removed from office.

  4. Lou Glorie Says:

    Tom, I have done a line for line comparison with the Central and West Area Plans against the new document. The new plan does away with charming suggestions like allowing the use of vacant lots to host flea markets. These older plans have a long list of citizen contributors–nothing like the usual suspects placed on committees by the mayor.

    You’re right, there is no way to know any of this unless one invests in the copying costs and spends some lonely wee hours with multicolored pens and post-it page markers.

    Wow, Vivienne, this is a great series. Thanks, Lou

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