Raleigh City Council should have extended the deadline for comments to be included in the public hearing draft of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan—but they didn’t.
There was a strong case for extending the comment period, but Mayor Charles Meeker and Councilors Phil Isley, Mary-Ann Baldwin, and James West voted against it.
Councilors Russ Stephenson, Nancy McFarlane, Rodger Koopman, and Thomas Crowder voted to allow additional public comment.
The situation is now pretty confusing—with comments being accepted, but not included for the public hearing draft, but still (there is some doubt) being taken into consideration at a later stage. How the later comments will be incorporated or taken into account is unknown.
I’ve read the “explanation” on the city website, and I don’t understand it – and good gracious, I have advanced degrees in this stuff. And I have a hard time explaining it to others who have questions.
It seems like the sensible (bright-line) thing to do is just make February 28 the real deadline and not have this confusing split. Clarity is good in a public process—it helps citizens feel they are in charge of a process, because they can understand it.
The Comprehensive Plan is a very important document to guide growth and development for the next 20 years, and we need to get it right. Citizen commentary and feedback is a key part of “getting it right”. As a professional planner who has been through this process many times, I know that the key to a successful plan rollout is buy-in—and a big part of buy-in is making sure people feel that they have been fully heard.
Jason Hibbets, who petitioned City Council to extend the comment period, is an example of the many people who have worked hard to provide their best insights and feedback on the plan, but who haven’t been given quite enough opportunity to be fully heard. I myself am another example—I’ve got about 12 hours in it at this point, yet I’ve only had time to look at about a third of the document. And I don’t have small children or some of the other constraints that people are dealing with (sick parents, slow internet connections, second jobs, ... etc.)
Since most people only crawled out from under the winter holidays a few weeks ago, it’s hard to say that there’s been enough time to fully vet this thing, even for those dedicated individuals who pay close attention to city affairs, like Jason and me—and many others I know who have wanted to comment but only had time to peruse closely a small portion of the plan.
Although the process has been run well up to the present, I did think it was quite unusual to roll out the plan in December—I’ve been a planner for fifteen years, and there are two months in the calendar that you count out pretty much completely when unveiling an important document for public feedback—those are December and late July/August. So I think it’s fair to say that, effectively, there have really only been about 3 weeks for comments to be included in the public hearing draft.
My review of the plan so far (as I said, I’m only part way through) reveals to me a document that, while it is capable of becoming a good-quality comp plan, is a long way from being such a thing at present. It’s got many sections that have more generalities than details—too much boilerplate-ish material, which (as a planning consultant) I would not have allowed to leave my shop. There are whole elements that need to have much more specificity before they’ll provide a clear and useful guide to implementation.
We, Raleigh citizens, are paying $600,000 dollars for this thing, which is a fair price for a project of this scale – IF it produces a high-quality document which fully reflects the desires and priorities of Raleigh citizens. At this price, there is no reason to let the consultant off easy.
The public is paying for this plan, and they should be able to hold the consultant to the standard of full public review and comment.
The public open houses and sessions that were conducted have been very limited in their specificity. They serve a legitimate, general purpose (visioning & big-picture input).
But it’s the line-by-line comments where the public gets its best opportunity to shape the actual contents of the plan, the material that actually affects neighborhoods, priorities, and programs. That’s where the rubber meets the road, and this is the phase where the public lets the consultant know precisely where they got it right and where not so right.
Mayor Meeker stated, when he voted against extending the public comment period, that the plan needs to stay on schedule.
The need to keep the project “on schedule” is not critical. We’re in a down economy and there is no rush. MUCH more important than sticking to a pre-determined schedule: getting the plan done right. Speaking as a planner, an arbitrary schedule should never trump the importance of getting the document done right and receiving the full vetting of the public whom the document ultimately serves—especially when there is not a pressing deadline, as in this case.
We are in the middle of a huge real estate slump. No one is banging down the door for development permits. For once, we have the time to let citizens get our hands fully around this thing, and fully vet and consider it. We should let ourselves do so!
This is a big, big effort which will have implications for many years to come, and set the tone for our city for a long time—it’s worth 28 extra days to get it right.