Posts Tagged ‘land use planning’

THE SOUTH SIDE – A Portrait of Chicago & American Segregation

August 6, 2016

 Natalie Y. MooreMoore book

South side reporter for local NPR member station.
2016 St. Martin Press, New York

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods…places of similarity…racial, religious, ethnic, socio-economic.

These places both connect and divide human contact, economic investment, political capital… they also foster racial, religious and ethnic diversity while perpetuating segregation.

Growing up a Chicago “sout-sider” means you’re different – not bad, nor deprived but different.

Natalie Moore captures this difference.

Being a black “sout-sider” she shares her life experience; a middle class black family upbringing from the Chatham racially divided neighborhood to racially integrated Beverly and Hyde Park/Englewood neighborhoods to the up and coming Bronzville neighborhood all while expertly describing how Chicago social, political and economic forces shape the neighborhood landscape and their socio-economic strictures.

Being a Chicago “sout-sider” and a seasoned city planner – economic developer I was anxious to read her book.

The book refreshed memories, and I can say…I saw it, I lived it…and personally experienced both the good and the bad of Chicago’s “sout-side”.

For the city planner, her book offers many insights into today quest for community “placeMaking”.

Socio-economic homogeneity draws together economic and political power useful for neighborhood sustainability while at the same time posing a barrier to outside capital infusion and citywide political influence.

Readers will be challenged with the question of whether a socio-economic concentrated enclave is better than multi-faceted interests for neighborhood sustainability and social and economic betterment?

This is a must read for city planners and others with interest in “placeMaking” the art of “creating great communities” built around vibrant neighborhoods were people want to live.

 

COUNTY “OPT-OUT” TO NEUTER MICHIGAN’S TIF

April 17, 2014

It was bound to happen….the destruction of Michigan’s most effective economic development tool.

Over the next several years, as new and updated Development and Tax Increment Financing Plans are adopted, it’s likely that more and more counties and colleges will “opt-out” reducing the amount of future funds available to Michigan’s Downtown Development, Corridor Improvement and a number of other specialized authorities created by Michigan local governments.

The impact is, and will be, pretty draconian to local community economic development.

A big loss of TIF revenue

A quick review of nine TIFs I have completed during the past five years in Southern Michigan shows that City/Village formed TIFs will lose between 20 to 50% of future revenue and township formed TIFs between 60 to 80%.

Ouch…is all Wayland City Manager, Michael Selden could say when I shared this information with him.   “This will surely change the way we go about the budgeting process for our Downtown Development Authority”, he added.

Opt-out “its” – why counties opt out

I first saw this coming a few years back when a small community used DDA funds to buy a snow plow truck “cause it will be used to plow downtown streets too”.

It became more evident when one community had in in excess of $500,000 in their industrial park TIF; funds sitting idle with the entire infrastructure installed and paid for

This was reinforced when the lack of DDA oversight in two communities led them into emergency financial problems due to the use of DDA funds for unauthorized purposes.

It’s also common practice to “slide over” typical general fund expenses to an authority for payment; things like pavement marking, street sweeping, landscaping expenses plus certain salaries & wages – expenses that normally would paid with general budgeted funds if there was no TIF revenue.

It’s pretty easy to grasp the reason for “opt-out”.

Why in face of county fiscal challenges should the county divert funds to sit idle in a local community’s bank account or pay for things that normally would be paid from the community’s general fund?

In the industrial park case, the diverted county funds held by the community would fully fund the projected budget deficit for the year.

The reason for opt-out is pretty simple, poor management and lack of oversight on the part of the local community and yes, the county (college and other tax capture entities) also.

More opt-outs to come

Since most TIFs are outgrowth of DDAs (and other authorities) formed about twenty years back, we can assume that more opt-outs will take place as communities are required by law to update their Development & TIF Plans.

Because there are no TIF police or required legislative compliance reporting, the number of TIFs that may be subject to opt-out cannot be easily determined.

Based on my experience I suspect, a large number of TIFs operate without an up-to-date Development & (separate) Tax Increment Financing Plan properly approved by the City or Village Council or Township Board.

Even where these documents currently exist, often times, they are not current, incomplete or do not correspond to the actual projects and funding decisions made by the authority board.

The TIF police function is solely the duty of the legislative body of the community that establishes the TIF, a duty typically unrecognized and rarely exercised by elected officials.

Good use TIF guide

With changes bound to happen here are some “good use” TIF operating principles:

Option 1 – Ø county funds

Under this scenario, there is no capture of county (or college) tax revenues.

The impact of this decision is to leave funding TIF expenditures solely with local government general fund sourced revenues.

Bridgman City Manager, Aaron Anthony questions the need for the city’s Corridor Improvement Authority “if we have to fund all of its expenses”.  Why don’t we just eliminate the CIA and do the projects ourselves”, he added.

But Michigan’s emphasis on central city “Place Making” requires a separate authority (DDA or CIA) to increase eligibility for state grant funding, to obtain redevelopment liquor licenses and to offer commercial renovation tax abatements.

“So even if we don’t ever form the TIF District and capture general funds, there’s a need for the CIA itself….I could run the CIA as a shelf organization and use it only when needed for these specific purposes”, quotes Anthony.

Option 2 – Cap the amount of county funds

Dan Fette, Berrien County’s Community Development Director, supports a somewhat different approach.  On his advice, the county adopted a policy that places a cap on the total amount of county revenue that can be captured during the life of a current TIF Plan.

The county and local government agrees, by contract, to a predetermined amount of future county revenue that can be captured. The amount is determined by projecting future tax revenue expected for new development and inflation increased existing property values documented within the TIF Plan adopted by Council or Township Board.

According to Fette, “this gives the County an opportunity to discuss what projects and activities will be funded and how much future County tax revenue will be diverted to support local economic development within each specific community……obviously good projects that increase employment and create additional tax base will be viewed differently than activities that don’t”.

“Use of an intergovernmental agreement sets in place the opportunity to introduce recapture processes for TIF funds used in violation of the terms agreed upon”, he notes.

Option 3 – Project specific revenue sharing

A variation to the Option 2 – Cap approach is to the limit County (or college) TIF funds use for specific agreed projects.

This is an interesting approach; In Michigan we have several specific authorizations that effectively do this now; the Water Resource Improvement Tax Increment Financing Act, PA 94 of 2008, being an example.

For these TIFs the County (and college) effectively make an “in-or out” decision to participate in the single purpose use of TIF funds by a local government.

This same idea to “opt-in, opt-out” of specific projects can be used “right now” by a DDA or CIA.

It‘s pretty simple according to Aaron Anthony, “all that’s needed is a Development Plan that contains specific projects with their estimated costs approved by the Council and ok’d by the County.  All tax revenue, both county and city, in excess of that needed would be considered ‘excess’ and, as required by law, returned to the city and county”.

Option 4 – Annual work program approval

Another approach, one this writer supports, is annual work program agreements between authorities and funders.

This was first introduced about five-years back in southern Michigan where authority Development and TIF Plan adoption ordinances, this writer prepared, added a provision that required the Chair of the authority and the chief elected official of the local government, to prepare and personally sign an annual report detailing accomplishments, expenditures and compliance with adopted plans.

The intent of this requirement was designed to serve as the basis for discussion of the past years use of TIF revenue and to discuss the use of TIF revenue for the coming year to assure that all funding was being used in accord with the terms of the approved Development and TIF Plans.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work well.

Neglected by the authority and the chief elected official and not “followed-up” by the county (or college), the reporting duty just became another disregarded task of local government.

Reforming TIF in Michigan

Michigan is a bit unique in use of TIF.

In other states, especially those that allow school tax revenue capture, the amount and purpose  of tax increment financing is more individual project focused and subject to a higher degree of  initial scrutiny and periodic performance review by the funders.

With this said, TIF is important to Michigan.

It is one of relatively few means for local government to incentivize a complex development or redevelopment project when applied in its truest form – “having new development tax payments fund needed infrastructure needs.”

(See: Michigan Tax Increment Financing: A Primer, Planning and Zoning News, December 2006, for an explanation and history of TIF use.)

Today in Michigan we need to return to the original purpose of TIF, funding needed infrastructure that results in new development and quit viewing, from the local governmental perspective, TIF being an opportunity to “leverage someone else’s tax revenue” to help support  local government economic development and desired day-to-day operating needs.

PLANNING CHICAGO – A summary of Chicago Planning effort beginning in the 1950’s

April 10, 2014

PlanningChicagoFor us Chicago trained planners, Burnham’s Chicago Plan and the Chicago School of government planning never seems to escape interest.

The more years in the profession the more we tend to look back into history for guidance for the future.

Planning Chicago, by D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries adds something to the base knowledge and historical understandings.

Chicago planning and real estate development has been, and always will be, I suspect, driven by a unique relationship between government, business and organized community interests.

It’s inbred into the political structure of city ward government, historical neighborhood enclaves that began with immigrant migration in the early 1900’s and the strong commercial real estate needs of growing businesses.

While some can argue that Chicago planning works, or doesn’t work, historical facts demonstrate that governmental and civic planning does work, maybe not the precise way of the planning text books, but, none the less, “the Chicago way”.

Planning Chicago adds much-needed information and insight to “the Chicago way” of planning, highlighting Chicago’s downtown, neighborhoods, and business strategic initiatives all-together shaping the Chicago’s growth into the next century.

Especially interesting to the reader will be the last chapter.

The writers challenge the concept of “the Chicago way” opining the era of “big plans” – another Burnham plan – cannot be produced to guide the future growth of the greater Chicago region.

It’s implied that traditional text-book planning approaches are passé, due to disconnect between traditional planning and the financing of projects that comprise these “big plans”.

With this in mind, the authors call for restoring “planning” of the more traditional kind built upon grass root community activism conjoined with business and government interests. It’s believed that Chicago’s future must rely upon “a comprehensive plan that examines all aspects of the city, creates a shared purpose, raises consciousness about important challenges and summons the resources so they can be allocated effectively for future needs.

All that needed is the political will to do this”.

The authors have contributed a valuable resource to the history and contextual understanding of planning theory, especially planning activities influencing the greater Chicago Region.

This is a must read for all Chicago trained and Chicago interested planners.

Fredrick Law Olmsted A Clearing in the Distance

April 8, 2014

Fredrick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century

 An urban place making designer before his time.

FLO Clearing in the DistanceFor us schooled in the land use planning profession, especially those educated in the Midwest, two names have special meaning – Daniel Burnham and Fredrick Law Olmsted.

Burnham and his 1909 Plan of Chicago always seem to take center stage.

But Olmsted’s contribution to Chicago and Detroit among other Midwest cities is equally noteworthy.

Olmsted, labeled the father of Landscape Architecture, is credited with bringing parks and natural areas into the American planned landscape that city planners envision.

While best known for New York’s Central Park, Olmsted gave us Belle Isle in Detroit, Jackson Park and the Midway Pleasance in Chicago, and the Louisville Kentucky Parks and Parkway system in addition to spearheading the national park system movement of the late 1880’s.

Witold Rybczynski’s biography of Olmsted is a must reading for up and coming planners and landscape architects.

The “take away” from this reading is an appreciation of Olmsted’s understanding of “natural environment place making” the ability to use a natural environment, a park or other landscape area to contribute to the overall cityscape development pattern and influence the day-today living environment of city residents.

Today, Olmsted would be classified, not only a landscape architect, but a “urban place making designer” championing the notion of creating places to attract people and offer a respect from the built environment with stretches of trees, water features, meadows and grassed turf areas as “collective people places”.

He was truly “America’s park maker”.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TODAY, TOMORROW AND BEYOND – Preparing for the future?

March 12, 2014

Over the past several years, my friend Craig Hullinger, former Economic Development Director of Peoria Illinois, and I have annually surveyed our colleagues in the economic development, city management and the community planning profession asking what they believe are the “most important & biggest trends” influencing their daily work tasks both today and in the coming year.

This is always a fun exercise.

Most of our colleagues are “old guys” with 30+ years of experience.  However, we sprinkle some “younger blood” into the conversation so the old guys don’t mentally fossilize!

I decided this year to sit back and look deeply into the crystal ball again and characterize what in our collective opinion are the 10 most likely trends that will shape how communities conduct their community planning and economic development programs in the future.

The results were not what I expected.

In the past, we identified changes, ones I would say, were not very “transformational” to the profession.

The results of this current survey, I believe, are “life changing”.

In my opinion, the changes identified characterize a new generation of leadership and principles that will guide community growth as we journey through the remainder of the 21st Century.

With thanks to all contributors, here are my thoughts and predictions for this generational change.

1.  Old people will die – Generation X and Millennials (Generation Y) will lead.

The “baby boomers” are getting old and are leaving the work force – leadership is being transferred.

Senator Alan Simpson, coauthor of the Bowles Simpson Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Plan, on CNBC recently stated “there are 10,000 people each day turning 65-years old” resulting in baby-boomers retiring and leaving the workforce in massive numbers, some by choice and some by business downsizing via early retirements and layoff.

Today, Generation X, those ages between 34-54 years, are taking over corporate and government leadership.  Even the top job in the US, the President, is taken by a Generation X’er; 52-year old President Obama.

This younger generation, especially the millennials (Generation Y – aged 18-33 years), are better educated, more computer savvy, electronically connected and have different social, cultural and collaborative decision-making skills than the baby-boomers – skills which will change the way community engagement is conducted and community development decisions are rendered.

Younger, better educated and communication savvy men and women will shape the future and take care of the baby-boomer generation as it ages.

2.  History will be the future, if we let it.

Change is hard and the older you get, the harder it is to change – “inaction is easier than in action.”

History can be the predictor of the future, if we let it. Our government system is designed to make inaction easy.  As politically safe – it doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t rankle the electorate or create criticism. To many, a major transformation action is almost an impossibility, so why bother.

However, change happens, nothing stays the same and communities that realize that economic change will happen and take action are always better off.

In the future, communities that embrace action, rather than inaction, by continually reinventing themselves will gain economic sustainability as the global, national and local economy changes.

3.  Social networking is faster than coffee shop communications.

A recent NBC news report about the millennial generation commented on the continuous communication need of the generation that grew up with smart phones.   One millennial interviewed stated the importance of instant and continuous communication – “I get a bit nervous after 2-3 minutes if I don’t have my phone”.

Where baby-boomers recognized that the “morning coffee shop telegraph” was faster and had a bigger reach than the local radio & TV stations and newspapers in communicating with the community, today’s communication is instant communication by the smart phones that transfer “breaking news” throughout the community.

Beginning today and in the future, smart phone communication will replace the importance of radio, TV and newspaper communication in community decision making.

 4.  Population size matters.

The American landscape is filled with ghost towns and more will be created in the future.

The question of whether there is a minimum population necessary to have a community is serious question; one where academic research is needed. 

How many people are needed to support effective government with enough people to appoint to the planning, economic development and other committees?  How big does the community need to be to support a church, a Boy Scout Troop, and – yes – the local retail shops?

This is a serious inquire about the future of smaller communities leading to the question of how best to divide state and federal community support funds for infrastructure development and other community enrichment programs. Do we give potential future ghost town equal access to state and federal funding?

In the future, a minimum community population size will be needed to fulfill government management duties, support community social capital needs and bring into the community sufficient household income that can financially support local community retail needs.

5.  Simplicity and speed increases success.

Michigan’s community planning demonstrates lack of simplicity.  It requires preparation of three principal documents, the 20-Year Master Plan (63-day review period), a 5-Year Parks, Recreation and Green Infrastructure Plan (30-day review period) and a 6-Year Capital Improvements Program (which may not need a review period).   Add on a downtown or other authority and you have a 20-Year Development and Tax Increment Financing Plan with a 20-day review period.

Confusing, you’ll agree, I bet.

Even for us who daily work with these laws, it’s hard to explain.  It’s even understandably more difficult for the volunteer board member who is empowered to prepare the plans for their adoption or, after preparation, their recommendation for adoption by the legislative body.  The complex process of preparation of multiple plans and consolidating them into a coordinated community future strategy adds time and costs – simplicity would mean less confusion and faster preparation.

Pity the unknowledgeable citizen who comes to the public hearing and is faced with trying to fit together this mismatch of plans seeking to understand where the community is headed in the future.

In the future, comprehensive community future strategy will be simplified and easier to communicate expanding the ability for citizen input and greater understanding, all which will lead to a better community-wide understanding of which direction the community is heading.

 6.  99% may = success – but 1% can = failure.

Majority rule is thing of past, if we let it.

Even with 99% support, it’s possible for any initiative to fail when the 1% has sufficient money and legal ability to “tie-up” the process with the goal of never allowing a solution.

This problem is not only a Washington matter but one that plays out at the state and local levels.

This era of “political grid-lock” is a serious menace to participatory decision-making giving the impression that personal participation won’t matter so “why get involved”.

In the future reaching uncontested consensus will become the principal goal of community development initiatives, a process which will increase the time and cost of the community development process, and frustrate the electorate that seeks quick change.

7.  The sand box is market sized.

Riley Law of Retail Gravitation states that “all else being equal, a person will travel to the closest retail location for a purchase”.  This makes sense, especially when gas prices are reaching $4.00 per gallon; smart shoppers will travel to the closest retailer when the price and product are the same.

Riley’s law also helps define the modern community, being the market (or trade) area where people gravitate to for shopping and other services.

The reality is that, consumers today don’t pay much attention to which political jurisdiction they shop. The fact is, many don’t even know in which municipality they reside, except when voting and paying taxes.

Today, geopolitical boundaries are less important than economic market areas when defining community. 

Economic markets, in the future, will become even more important in defining community and be drivers of need for geopolitical redefinition to increase economic sustainability encouraged by community development planning and economic development strategy implementation separated from the confines of geopolitical boundaries.

8.  Taxable value is population growth driven.

Almost all communities rely on real estate taxes to fund governmental services and most local taxes are based on the value of real estate.

Ultimately the law of supply and demand rules the community real estate tax revenue.

Communities with population growth, new households added from in-migration and young folks setting-up their first households; stimulate demand for existing and new homes.

More households bring more spending creating the need for commercial real estate investment.

It’s easy to see that communities with population growth will tend to have an increasing real estate taxable value and those with stable or no population growth will tend to have a stable or decreasing real estate taxable value.

In the future, community population growth will become more important as a means to increase governmental revenue and community development measures will focus on actions to stimulate population growth.

9.  Bad times = innovation & entrepreneurism.

It’s an accepted fact that small businesses and entrepreneurs are the community job creators.

The economic recession has focused attention on this phenomenon to fulfill the job creation expectations of communities suffering from high unemployment.

It’s the mantra of economic development practice today – grow your own jobs!

Studies, most notable by the Kauffmann Foundation, demonstrate the promise of the “grow your own jobs” theory.  They document that 54% of millennials seek to start a business and that three of each 1,000 adults desire to start a business. 

Many start-up businesses result from the lack of job opportunities, others from the realization that starting a small business can be a personal career choice and for some the ability to mimic start-up financial success of others.

Economists have documented today’s post-recession recovery is no different than past recession recoveries shown by small business innovation and expansion trends presented daily in today’s media.

Community economic development strategy will continue to place more emphasis on innovation and efforts towards home-grown job creation by mentoring expandable smaller businesses, facilitating the start-up of new businesses and educating young people that entrepreneurship can be a  personally satisfying and financially rewarding career choice.

 10.  Status quo biases leads to failure.

Communities don’t easily change; in fact, there is a bias towards change.

It’s easier to deny the need for change than to implement change, but a community that doesn’t change stagnates.

Most often a major event – loss of a major employer – is needed to drive home the need for change.

There are individual and community wide mental biases against change and noted economist Thomas Friedman best describes five stages of the mental process leading to economic stagnation, with some editorial comments we’ve all heard, as follows:

1.  You’re wrong and I can prove it.

Everything is just fine – it’s always been this way.

2.  You’re right but it doesn’t matter.

Yes, we should make some changes but it won’t help.

3.  Ok, it’s time to change & we can.

Woops, we were wrong and we now need to make changes.

4.  Of course we need to change but it’s too late to do anything.

Ouch, we’re too late to make anything better.

5.  Yes, we must change but the disruption will do political damage.

I’m not going to take on this risky job – leave it to someone else.

In the future, many communities will march into the future with the community development goals they have…not the ones they want to have, or the ones they wish to have until they realize that a successful community is one that reinvents itself as the community and its economy changes and develops the civic leadership to guide that change.

SOME LAST THOUGHTS –

The future is bright, even though the economic development, city management and community planning profession face some big challenges.

This is not new; in my career my predecessors identified equally alarming challenges calling them opportunities, not problems.

So too, these ten thoughts and predictions pose challenges and opportunities for the future.

I believe today’s economic developers, city managers and municipal planners are ready and well prepared to accept these challenges and opportunities and serve as guides for the future.

MICHIGAN COUNTY PLANNING – ANALYSIS AND CRITIQUE OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT PLANNING AND ZONING REVIEW PROCESS

January 27, 2014

INTRODUCTION

Michigan law is unique. It subjects all local units of government master plans to a county planning review process intended to determine its consistency with surrounding local government plans among all other applicable plans.

For townships, this review process goes further subjecting the zoning ordinance and all amendments to a similar review.

In planning practices this concept is termed “concurrency”, the term given by planners to the concept of each master plan prepared by the respective local government to be “fitted together” and upon agreement to create a county plan.

Likewise, assembly of county plans creates regional plans and assembly of regional plans creates state plans and finally a national master plan.

This “bottom-up” master planning approach is designed to identify multi-jurisdictional infrastructure needs forming, the basis for a capital improvements multi-year budget.

FDR’s  Brain-Truster’s Stuart Chase and  Rexford Tugwell originated the concept in the 1930’s.  It was the basis of much of government’s role in economic planning whereby congress would use these plans to identify, on a national basis, where to invest federal funds for roads, water/sewer and other infrastructures.

While the Brian-Truster’s economic planning concept was ultimately vetoed by congressional action, the concept of multi-year capital improvement programs remains embedded in planning theory and today is a requirement in Michigan’s planning enabling legislation.

While Michigan once fully embraced economic and resource (land use) planning, interest evaporated in the 1950’s & 60’s in favor of economic development strategy and programs.  This ultimately resulted in a 1970’s renewed interest in environmental protection and need for government policies stimulating job creation as a recession remedy, including effort to establish a state land use planning law in 1975 and 1977 (HB 4234 – 1975, 4107 – 1977 and 4189 – 1977 plus SB 692 – 1977).

During this time the State of Florida was probably the leader in reinventing land use planning, promoting the concept of “concurrency” in its 1970’s Growth Management Act.  The state law required each level of local government to prepare a plan and link them together to create a statewide plan that identified location and timing, plus the funding source for each major infrastructure investment.

An elaborate collective conflict resolution process assured that all plans would fit together in a “jig-saw puzzle” fashion to make the final statewide plan.

Michigan’s law today is a “watered-down” byproduct of state land use planning theory employing the concept of a county planning commission review of local government prepared land use plans – in reality a county “concurrency” determination.

Today however, many question the “right “and the “role” of county planning commission judgment authority exercised by county planning commissions, in this review and concurrency role.

BACKGROUND OF THE SURVEY

To assess the value of this duty, the St. Joseph County Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners recently sponsored a survey to obtain information to make an informed judgment.

In August 2012, a request was made to each local government clerk to notify every elected official, planning commissioner, zoning board of appeals member, building inspector, code enforcement official, municipal attorney, manager and advisors to participate in an on-line survey.

There are between 200 and 300 elected and appointed officials, staff and advisors involved in local government planning and zoning decisions in St. Joseph County.

A range is given for the number of participants due to persons serving in duplicate capacities and variables in the number of appointees to planning commissions.

A total of 37 surveys were completed and submitted resulting in a response rate, between 12 and 19 %, comprising township, village and city responders.

PARTICIPANTS

Responders to the survey represented equally townships and cities/villages. Over half were elected officials, one-third appointed planning commissioners with the remainder being staff, consultants or legal advisors.

Twelve of the 16 township and 6 of the 7 cities/village participated.

MASTER PLAN REVIEW

FUTURE ACTIONS

While 18% of the responders did not know whether their Master Plan would require County Planning Commission review in the next several years, 30% indicated a 2013 review, 10% a 2014 and another 19%, a 2015 review will be required.

PAST REVIEW ACTIONS

Only 30% of the responders indicated knowledge of whether their current plan received County Planning Commission review, with 70% indicating no knowledge of whether the review found their current Master Plan to be consistent with the County Master Plan and those of surrounding local governments.

Only 20% of the responders indicated the County Planning Commission review being “somewhat helpful” to the local Planning Commission adoption of the current Master Plan.

FUTURE REVIEW ACTIONS

Eighty percent of the responders indicate that they don’t know whether the County Planning Commission review of their future Master Plan updates will be of value.

TOWNSHIP ZONING ORDINANCE REVIEW

PAST REVIEW ACTION

Sixty five percent of responders stated their township submitted all zoning actions for County Planning Commission review, with 36% indicating the need for one or two reviews in the past year.   Thirty percent indicated no need for any County Planning Commission review in the past year.

VALUE OF PAST REVIEWS

Over half of the responders indicate the County Planning Commission past reviews were very helpful, 6% little help and 41% indicating they did know if the review held any value.

VALUE OF FUTURE REVIEWS

While 41% of responders indicate they don’t know the value of future County Planning Commission reviews and another 12% indicating little or no help, 47% indicate the review to be very helpful.

MAJOR FINDINGS AND SURVEY CONCLUSIONS

1.  The role and legal duty of the County Planning Commission review function is unknown and possibly ignored by a majority of participants involved in township, city and village land use decision making.

2.  The value of the County Planning Commission review process, is questionable with a majority of those involved in local government land use decision making indicating little, or undetermined, value of  past and future  County Planning Commission review to decision-making by their local government.

3.  While required by law, the 5-year Master Plan update requirement is not recognized by a majority of responders with a vast majority unable to verify whether the County Planning Commission found their current Master Plan to be consistent with the county and other applicable plans.

COMMENTARY

There are many questions related to the value and necessity of the local government review function required of the County Planning Commission.  The most common question asked is whether it is important and needed.

Along with the unfunded state law mandate that the County Planning Commission review all Master Plans, but review only township, but not city or village, new zoning ordinances and amendments, many question county involvement in  local government control of land use decision-making.

For elected and appointed officials, many resent the notion of the County “telling them what to do” due to the strong bias towards this “local control”.

For some applicants processing unsuccessful approvals and for disgruntled affected property owners unhappy about a decision, the County Planning Commission is often viewed as a “super planning commission authority” with power to reverse or, at minimum, change” the local government decision.

This too – is viewed as an intrusion into local government local land use control.

In the present time of government austerity, providing services that have no, or limited, value invites inspection and possible action, to eliminate unneeded county services or to strengthen and economically justify the value of the County Planning Commission review function.

The Michigan County Planning Commission local government review function is obviously dysfunctional, as currently employed.

This analysis cites the need for corrective measures or elimination of an unneeded county government expense, a cost savings which can currently partially be accomplished by a resolution of the county board to eliminate review of township zoning matters.

It also identifies the need for possible planning legislation changes providing similar authority for elimination of the Master Plan review function.

FULL DISCLOSURE STATEMENT

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have served a 4-year term as a county planning director and 7-years as a regional planning director and nearly 30-years as a planning consultant to Michigan townships, cities and villages.

In this role he has first-hand experience in both conducting the County Planning Commission review function and processing township, city and village reviews before County Planning Commissions.

No recommendation is made on a course of action to be taken leaving this to the discretion of Michigan legislature.

HENRY FORD – THE TOWN PLANNER

January 16, 2012

Having spent my career in Michigan, I naturally think of Henry Ford as a “car guy”, the man who took a new invention and created an industrial system to bring motorized transit to the masses.

Ford’s legacy is a “car guy” – but he also experimented with town planning necessitated by the need to transport from remote locations coal, wood, and metal natural resources required for the making of automobiles.

Fordlandia chronicles his efforts to tame 75 miles of Amazon jungle necessary to provide rubber for auto production.

The need for a new town came along with this effort, the common infrastructures of potable water, waste water removal, trash disposal, electricity, and transportation plus worker housing, and their medical, social, religious and educational needs.

Ford, closer to home, undertook similar town planning efforts in Michigan with L’Anse, Alberta, Pequaming, and Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula all sharing a Ford company town legacy.

It’s interesting to me, having studied Urban & Regional Planning in the 1970’s new town Park Forest South next door to the post WWI new town Park Forest (Illinois) to compare new town planning with today’s contemporary planning theories.  My familiarity with the Park Forests provides a background to identify similarities between 1920’s, 40’s and 70’s new town planning theory with current smart growth, traditional neighborhood design, higher density transit orientated development, walkable community and cool cities planning theory promoted today.

In general, I’d say we didn’t learn much from the 1920’s, 40’s and 70’s new town experiments but rather repackaged some fundamental truths about new towns for the community development theory of today.

Here are some basic facts:

1. TOWNS THRIVE ON JOBS

Whether you walk, bike, drive a car, taxi, take mass transit or work from home, proximity to a job (or other form of income) decides where you live.

Town planning first must consider jobs and how workers journey to and from work, in order to function.  This is why Ford, Pullman and other industrialist chose to invest in town infrastructures and worker housing necessary to gather together the workforce in close proximity to make their business function profitability.

Ford recognized that transportation, not only product transport from remote locations but the worker journey to work trip, would shape worker attitudes towards uprooting families and moving to remote locations for employment.

2. HEALTY WORKERS DEPEND ON INFRASTRUCTURE – WATER AND WASTE DISPOSAL

Land use planning originated as a health and safety need in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  US new towns were invented as a means to move people from the squalor of “big city” slums and tenements into planned communities free of disease and crime where dwelling units had safe drinking water and waste was properly disposed promoting a healthy living environment.

Because of the cost and complexity of installation of public infrastructure to support public health and safety in remote locations, companies such as Ford accepted the provision of infrastructure as being their responsibility and a “cost of doing business” costs which were ultimately passed on to the purchaser of a Ford automobile.

Ford realized that success in attracting a workforce to move natural resources from remote locations to his auto plants would require Ford to be the town planner, town developer and serve as the traditional governmental administrator.

3. RECREATION AND SOCIAL NEEDS ARE IMPORTANT

Today, “cool cities and vibrant 24 hour-downtowns” are essential to attract, especially young-aged workers to cities with governments promoting walkable communities “placed based” attraction strategies.

Ford also recognized these same needs.  Ford is quoted saying about Fordlandia, “There will be schools, experiment stations, canteens, stores, amusement parks, cinemas, athletic sports, hospitals, etc. for the confort and happiness of those who work on the plantation.”

4. HEALTH CARE, EDUCATIONAL & RELIGIOUS FACILITES ARE NEEDED

In similar fashion, to “round out” the full needs of a new town, provision must be made for a number of services, on- site or within easy communing distance.

Ford recognized this and using his relationship with the Dearborn Michigan Ford hospital had ability to draw upon medical professionals to fill a portion of the community needs, as an example.

5. PHASING OUT THE “BENEVOLENT BENEFACTOR” IS IMPORTANT

The industrial benefactor new town movement was inspired, for the most part the by the need to capture a workforce in close proximity to jobs with the benevolent benefit being a community lifestyle unmatched in another location. 

Government sponsored experiments were somewhat similar, the opportunity to provide the unmatched community lifestyle to attract workers with industry moving to the community to secure its workforce.

Industrial benefactor release of governance was not clearly communicated nor supported in the industrial new town planning era.  The lack of industrial release of governance was the cause of many of the failures of industrial new town plans.

Governmental benefactor release was a bit more assured as the developers of new towns were required by regulation and planning theory to include more resident involvement and eventual formation of a government structure.  However, insufficient funding and a host of other problems lead to the demise of the government supported new town development era.

Ford, in beginning was silent in the social navigation of a form of governance favoring a more dictatorial doctrinaire expounding on his theory of personal and community behavior.

SO WHAT CAN WE LEARN TO AID TOWN PLANNING TODAY

Smart Growth, the planning mantra of the 1990’s always amuses me. 

I queried one of my professors during a presentation about smart growth in 1994 asking him if the planning theory he taught in 1974 was “dumb growth”.

While it got an audience chuckle, it raises an interesting question.

We studied in our environmental planning educational program, as the Park Forest South planners prepared land use plans, the importance of a centralized commercial location within walking distance to most housing, the importance of mass transit to remote “big-city” high-paying jobs, need for close-by quick journey to work trip employment, adequate infrastructures for a healthful environment, need for environment & open space protection, importance of social and recreation facilities, the role of close-by walking accessible education and a system of resident involvement governance.

Time has proven that Ford in the mid-1920 was wrong in declaring the “crowded metropolis doomed, crumbling under the weight of traffic, pollution, vice, and the cost of policing the great mass of people”. 

However, his belief that the “key to creating loyal, more efficient workers was to help them find “comfort and happiness – fulfillment outside the factory” holds relevance today and still serves as a foundation of contemporary community planning theory.

Today, planning theorists like Florida, Duany, Glaeser, and Leinberger expound on the same principal of worker comfort, happiness and fulfillment but geographically located in central cities as the contemporary foundation of urban social reform and community betterment planning.

I happen to agree but I cannot help reach back into history to find many similarities with the new town planning concepts originated during the private sector industrial new town era, the 1940’s returning WWII veterans new town “housing boom” era and the  1970’s HUD funded “anti-sprawl” new town movement.

They say history repeats itself or “what goes around – comes around”.

Much of the todays new “planner speak“ is nothing more than repackaged sound planning principles tested and proven over time.

The new buzz words – smart growth, place based planning, sustainability and the like are not new ideas but rather a call for action to meet contemporary problems with sound time proven planning principles.

Guys like Ford and Pullman had it right and while private sector industrial new town development may not be favored today, much can be learned as we seek to reinvent cities with “fulfilled workers” anxious to live and work new town environments  being created in our cities.