Comprehensive Planning Meeting

Last night the township held its public comprehensive planning meeting. The turnout was good, about what I saw with the WSSD strategic planning meeting. The format of the meeting was different.

The meeting opened with an introduction by the township manager Dave Grady and long-time planning commission member Bob Linn. They talked mostly about what a comprehensive plan is supposed to be and what the purpose of the meeting was. Then they invited people to come up and look at the displays that had been printed – showing information from the old comprehensive plan, some broad views of the township’s finances, and traffic and zoning data. Then they turned us loose to discuss our vision for the township, with someone at each table to collect information. We had a sheet with some basic questions and the sorts of issues a comprehensive plan typically addresses. Those collecting information were either volunteers from the comprehensive planning stakeholder interview committee, township employees or township commissioners.

This is a difference I noted with the school district. The township has a deeper bench. It has dozens of people that work with it on its many committees. The commissioners themselves often take a more hands-on role. And the township has people like Bob Linn and former commissioner Mike Dougherty with a long relationship with the township and a lot of valuable experience and knowledge of the past. About half the people leading the meeting were staff, the other half were volunteers or elected officials. And, likewise, during this meeting residents were told about these opportunities to get more involved with the township and it serves as an entry-ramp for more community involvement, which is also a good thing.

I had to leave to put my son to bed after about an hour and a half. By that point, we’d finished our small group discussions and were sharing the major points back with the larger group. It was nice to see points of common interest emerge – pedestrian and bike safety, traffic concerns, waste collection, pickleball courts, open space preservation, closer school-township integration, etc. By that point of the WSSD strategic planning meeting we hadn’t even started small group discussions. The township meeting felt like a more efficient use of time.

Many of the visions expressed were clustered around the concept of sustainability. Many of the discussion points revolved around getting around the township safely on foot or bike. It was noted that there were few sidewalks along major roads at the time of the last comprehensive plan in 2005, many have been built since then Wallingford Ave., Providence Rd., Rose Valley Rd for example. There were many people saying the roads still felt unsafe – protected bike lanes were raised as an idea for instance. There were discussions of maintaining the existing open spaces and trees in the township. There were discussions around the need for a broader tax base – a perennial problem in one of the state’s most residential municipalities. There were discussions around both aging in place and making allowances for multi-generational housing. There were other issues around recreation, affordable housing and more, but the points that seemed to get hit repeatedly often focused on creating a more sustainable community.

Another contrast was the point of the planning process where stakeholders were consulted. At the WSSD strategic planning meeting we were handed the broad strokes of the plan already drafted and told to discuss the plan’s elements to tweak them. At the township meeting last night township manager Dave Grady said nothing of the plan had been drafted yet, they were collecting feedback before they started writing. It felt much more open-ended and creative as a result rather than trying to shoehorn our thoughts into a framework provided by the school district.

One similarity to the WSSD meeting was that the audience didn’t feel representative of the township as a whole. It had more older, longer term residents and I saw few people I recognized from Garden City, Putnam or South Media. But the township has other avenues for participation in the process such as the stakeholder interviews and the online survey (still available!) and hopefully that will gather some of that missing input.

Another similarity with the WSSD meeting is that the space provided for small group discussions felt like a big positive for the community. The usual discourse in society is so stuck in partisanship, these smaller discussions of issues that directly affect residents seem much more effective. I wonder if there’d be any way to make this some kind of annual thing, rather than just a once every 15-20 years sort of event. Maybe with the school district too as some of the points raised were related to it.

Categories: Events, NPTownship