Officials want input at first baseline plan meeting
Don’t let the 2050 plan scare you, Newtown County Council Chairman Keith Ellis says.
At least not yet. At this point, nothing is set in stone. Everything can be changed. If enough people don’t want or like certain parts of the plan, those parts can go away, according to Ellis.
“We must have a plan of some kind,” Ellis said Friday, “but I want a plan that the people are happy with and we want them to participate, to confirm, to modify that plan to fit their desires. And we will listen.”
The first opportunity for public input on the plan set to guide what the county will look like in 2050 will be Monday night at 6:30 at Live Oak Elementary School in Covington. The session hosted by The Center for Preservation and Planning will include a presentation of the plan’s basics and plenty of time for suggestions, questions and criticism from the public, said Kay Lee, The Center’s executive director.
As the first draft of the plan was unveiled, so was community frustration. Many aspects of the plan have caused severe concern among some of the county’s citizens.
None of the people involved in constructing the plan
expects it to pass as written. The one available now is just the first draft. There will be at least three drafts, and the process is expected to take more than six months.
“What we did is create the ideal,” Lee said. “Now what you have is the opportunity to say ‘All right, we have something new we can expand on.’”
Lee added that changes are likely, expected and natural: “I think that’s a key point, keeping in mind that if we want to protect our clean water and build communities and avoid the sprawl, all those things require thought and planning and coordination.”
Scott Sirotkin, director of the Newton County Development Services Department, said “the county believes public input is essential to developing the best code possible. These meetings are an important opportunity for citizens to hear details on the consultants’ first draft and to give their comments and suggestions.”
And like Ellis, Sirotkin said those suggestions will be listened to: “The current draft is the first of several drafts that will be developed during this process. I would expect a number of changes will be made for the next draft based on the input received over the next few weeks.”
For instance, grandfathering. As written, the 2050 draft includes no language allowing existing structures to remain where they are.
“The county’s current zoning ordinance contains provisions for legal, nonconforming - often called grandfathered - uses, lots, buildings, etc. I anticipate the same or similar language will be included in 2050,” Sirotkin said.
The plan itself is an imposing paper monster, scores of pages of definitions, allowed land uses, lot sizes, regulations and more. But it’s simplicity itself compared to the regulations now in place in the county, Lee said.
Today, there are six governments with 60 defined land uses, complete with 700 separate line-item uses, Lee said. That compares with five land-use districts under the new plan – rural and conservation, neighborhood residential, corridor and center, overlay and legacy districts.
“Once you look at … how many different land uses there were then you start to sense the benefits,” Lee said.
The need for the plan goes beyond simplifying zoning rules, she added. Forecasts are for a population of 327,000 by 2050, meaning “sprawl” – think unconnected subdivisions and strip malls – will be a reality unless some sort of planning is adopted and enforced.
The 2050 plan has four goals: protect the county’s clean water, build communities, connect those communities, and coordinate public investments. The latter simply means ensuring the obvious, like coordinating road construction so pavement doesn’t end at a municipality’s borders.
Lee said the coordination among the various municipalities, the county, the school board and the solid waste board has been “a great success” in the 10 years since the idea for a master plan was broached. Now with the governments working together and outside consultants brought in, the first draft of that plan is in place.
Some sections of the plan are altogether blank, including historic preservation and administration.
“The 2050 plan has raised the bar” for expectations, Ellis said. “The question is, where do the citizens want that bar to be? I am going to be even-handed, even-keeled, balanced, steady. In other words, I want (people) to criticize, but be respectful. We’re going to listen, to hear and adjust our plan to meet” citizens’ concerns.
“We encourage them to come and tell us what they like. That would help us figure out what we don’t like. Help us. Be a part of the process.”
The plan and simplified explanations of what it entails are available online at 2050plan.org.