Comprehensive Plan Vision

I am currently serving on committees in Plymouth and Culver working on new Comprehensive Plans (or Com Plans). These documents are governed by State statute, but leave some flexibility to the communities. Sometimes the term “dream” is used with these documents, as in, “What would be your dream use for this area.” or “Dream Big!”. That leans much more towards fantasy for my liking. My preferred term is “Vision”. The heart of the Comp Plan are the land use maps… the “plan” part of the Comp Plan. It’s a visual tool detailing what the community would like to see and where that is.

There are several stumbling blocks for most people in this process. The first is that Comp Plans usually have a life of 5-10 years. (Plymouth’s last Comp Plan was completed in 2013 and Culver’s was completed in 2014.) People can become fixated on that short time horizon. While the Comp Plan should be revisited and updated every 5-10 years, the plan should be for 25-50 years, as theoretically the community continues on in perpetuity. This makes the 5-10 year update more of a tweak, removing things from the previous to-do list that have been completed and to adjust the overall plan for new trends that have developed. The Vision should be longer.

The second hang-up is a struggle to look past what’s there now and who owns that property. Most people look at a parcel of land and say, “I know that landowner and they would never go for that.” But… this is where they need to be thinking farther into the future than the 5-10 year life of the Comp Plan. The municipality will be here 25, 50 & 100 years from now. Will that landowner? Will that building still be viable? Will that street be there? The Vision should be longer.

The third major hang-up is separating the Comp Plan from the Zoning Ordinance. The Comp Plan lays out what the community would like to see. The Zoning Ordinance lays out what is allowed. There can and should be a difference. This is where a zoning hierarchy would be useful. In a discussion in a Culver meeting last week, we discussed the current Comp Plan’s direction for Main Street between Washington Street and Lake Shore Drive to be future Commercial. We discussed extending that to Lake Shore Drive between Main Street and State Street. This brought up discussion of the recent rezoning of a house on Main Street from Commercial to Residential. (Rezoning of 303 North Main Street discussed here.) The rezoning of 415 Lake Shore Drive was discussed as well. I look at these differently. While I have no problem with the reversion of 303 back to a home, there should have been a way to make that accommodation under the commercial zoning, leaving the long term vision in place. I would say the same accommodation should have been made for 415. While the new construction at 415 will theoretically be there longer, the townhouses planned are denser development and a reasonable intermediate step between single family residential and commercial. The strict district designations need to be softened to allow more mixed development. Furthermore, townhouses mixed in with commercial spaces are a reasonable long term plan in a walkable community.

For my Lurkers, this is not the first time I’ve pushed the Vision idea. I really thought Culver missed the boat not redoing their Comp Plan in 2020 and calling it 20/20 Vision. The whole pesky pandemic thing kind of got in the way, not to mention the Town Manager at that time had Stellar Fatigue and despite the Stellar Communities SAP accomplishing much of what was in the 2014 Comp Plan, he didn’t want to create new goals that he would be charged with achieving. Ha!

As with most of these things, there will be more to come. I’m pleased with Culver and Plymouth putting forth the effort and while I was hesitant about them at first, I’m pleased with MACOG‘s administration of the planning. (Thanks Donny!) Everybody work on their Vision. Do your best to envision what’s over the horizon, not just what can be seen today.

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