Small Area Plans Review Process – FAIL!
It’s time to tell the Pittsboro Town Board that we want meaningful citizen input and independent professional impact assessments before approval of small area plans for Chatham Park.
Remember the repeated promises we heard from the Pittsboro Town Board and Chatham Park Investors (CPI) that when it came to the 27 Small Area Plans for Chatham Park there would be plenty of safeguards to make sure “there is every opportunity for citizens to shape this project,” (which is what Commissioner Michael Fiocco promised on November 25, 2013).
Well, as you might have expected, all of these promises were again broken in the new proposed Small Area Plan approval process presented at last week’s Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting. Turns out the process now being considered by the Town Board does not require an official public hearing or independent professional fiscal, environmental, transportation and socio-economic impact assessments and mitigation plans.
Small area plans were supposed to be where we got a detailed, design review process that would require professional impact analysis and meaningful citizen input while giving the developers greater flexibility to meet changing market demands. At least that’s what Commissioner Fiocco and Chatham Park Investors promised us, repeatedly. The Small Area Plan reviews were supposed to be a substitute for requiring the developers, as part of their master plan submittal, to provide a reasonable detailed overall plan for the development that could be evaluated through overall fiscal, environmental, transportation and socio-economic impact assessments, where both cumulative and indirect impacts could be determined. However, those promises will not be fulfilled if the new proposed small area plan process is approved.
Below we are providing a short summary of what we consider to be missing or wrong with the proposed process in terms of providing true citizen input and independent expert professional review. We are also providing a set of recommended changes or revisions to the proposed small area plan process.
Of course, we want to thank you for your continued support for our litigation, which is the reason why the Town Board is being required to develop an approval process for small area plans. We challenged the original vague standard that was contained in the first master plan approved by the Town. Our litigation forced the Town to jettison that original developer-friendly approval standard in the second master plan with a provision that the “legislative process for review and approval…will be determined by the Town.”
So, here we are presented with another rubber-stamp approval process, as we explain below.
Please take a few minutes to review our recommendations. We hope this information is helpful to you and that you will consider sending your comments and recommendations to the Town Board. Be sure to copy Town Clerk Alice Lloyd (email@example.com). There is no scheduled public hearing to allow residents to speak directly to the Board; the review process is scheduled to again be considered on September 10. Thus, it is imperative that citizens submit their concerns and recommendations in writing as soon as possible.
What is missing from and wrong with the proposed small area plan review process?
One of the fundamental failures of the proposed review process is that it is modeled after site and subdivision plan reviews where the only role of public officials is to determine if it meets the detailed subdivision or site plan ordinance requirements. But the Master Plan calls for a discretionary legislative review process, where you would normally require a public hearing and a factual analysis to determine if the plan demonstrates protection of the health, safety and welfare of the town. The proposed small area plan review process being considered now does not require an official public hearing; instead it allows the developers to hold their own “public relations” information meeting and provide the town with their own summary of that meeting. The process also does not require independent professional impact assessments or professional peer reviews of developer generated impact assessments, and it ignores the land use plan requirement for having citizen input through a charrette to design the development using the Southwest Shore Environmental Assessment as a guide. The review process being considered also doesn’t require any public input before the planning board is expected to make a recommendation.
Interim Town Planner Roger Waldon says that the small area plan review process “mirrors the Town’s current process for review of site plans and subdivision applications.” However, the Small Area Plans are not subdivisions so we need a more specific review process that provides a factual basis –i.e. standards – for the Town to assess if the plans protect the health, safety, or welfare of the community and are consistent with the Land Use Plan. At the very least this would require findings of fact resulting from impact assessments.
Below is our suggested model or ideal small area plan review and approval process, which we believe should be required, since the Master Plan itself is so vague and does not require an overall design of the development. The Master Plan also does not require that detailed Additional Plan Elements be approved before small area plans are considered. It also does not require independently conducted professional impact assessments and fails to include most of the recommendations from the nationally recognized Lawrence Group planning consulting firm (hired by the Town).
Our recommendations for model small area plan review process:
1. Prior to formal submittal of a small area plan, the developers should present their proposed plans as part of a citizen engagement charrette process facilitated by outside planning consultants, allowing stakeholders to provide input and suggest alternative plans. An alternative to this process would be an ongoing advisory compass committee of experts and local government, non-profit and citizen stakeholder representatives appointed by the town board that would meet in public work sessions to work with the developers in designing small area plans.
2. Developers should consider the input from the charrette or publicly appointed advisory compass committee and present a formal application to the town.
3. The Town should require environmental, fiscal, transportation and socio-economic impact assessments from the developers with a peer review by independent professional consultants paid for by the developers or separate independent consultant impact assessments also paid for by the developer.
4. The Planning Department should sponsor a facilitated community information meeting to replace the proposed public information meeting conducted by the developers. The independent consultants should be there to present their impact assessments or peer reviews of the developer’s assessments. The same for professional staff and Technical Review Committee reviews. Citizens should have an opportunity to ask questions of the developers, consultants, and town staff and make comments or recommendations. The Planning Department should then provide a written summary of the meeting.
5. For a reasonable period following the meeting, the developers should have an opportunity to revise their proposal as needed to respond to recommendations presented at the community information meeting.
6. At least 30 days following the final public information meeting and any substantial changes made to the plan, the Town should hold a formal public hearing.
7. Within a reasonable time following the public hearing, and no sooner than two weeks, the planning board should meet to review and make recommendations concerning the proposed small area plan application. Town planning staff should provide summaries of the impact assessments, professional planning staff review, the community information meeting, and public hearing statements at least ten days before the planning board meets to first review a small area plan application. The planning board shall have up to three meetings to review and make recommendations.
8. When the Town Board reviews and votes on the Small Area Plan review process, citizens should be able to comment or ask questions. The town board should be required to make findings of fact regarding whether and how the proposed small area plan complies with all the requirements of the Master Plan and other town planning ordinances (e.g. Unified Development Ordinance) and adequately protects the public health, safety or welfare.