In the evening on July 22nd, the City of Bainbridge Island put on a program to explain the purpose and scope of the revision of our Comprehensive Plan, which will begin in earnest at the end of the Summer.
Navigate Bainbridge: Charting Our Future Together was designed to enlist citizen participants in the two-year update process. Lots of volunteers will be needed to work with City staff, members of the Planning Commission, and representatives of other advisory groups and civic organizations.
I had hoped to see a larger turnout, but the audience included many people I didn’t know, and that’s always a good sign. Even when we disagree, the diversity of interests and talents in our community is our source of vitality. Questions during the Q & A period covered a wide spectrum, dealing both with the process and opportunities for citizen involvement, and with issues that need to be addressed.
The centerpiece of the program was a presentation by Joseph Tovar, a city planning professional with deep experience at the state level with growth management principles, and in city governments with Comprehensive Plans and their implementation.
What Mr. Tovar said laid to rest some concerns that have been on my mind for months. He described the work ahead of us as two-fold.
First, there’s work to do on the Comprehensive Plan, in the light of fresh information and current concerns. Another set of tasks arises from the need for consistency between the Comp Plan and the Municipal Code – the regulations by which the norms and goals of the Plan are implemented.
Mr. Tovar proposed that while we review and revise the Comp Plan, we should also undertake, on a parallel track, an audit of the Municipal Code; he spoke of a ‘parking lot’ for Code amendments that will be considered after the Comp Plan has been updated.
Following this advice will add complexity and some controversy to an already daunting challenge, but in crucial portions of the Code (pertaining especially to development and growth management), we have “pre-existing conditions” that hinder the implementation of the current Comprehensive Plan’s vision.
The Comp Plan and the Code serve different purposes and they can’t be perfectly consistent, but both will be improved if they are brought closer into alignment.
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As boaters know, to navigate you need accurate charts, and familiarity with the information they contain. Without such knowledge, even in fair weather you may run aground. The Comprehensive Plan is not a chart but a charter – and not a charter boat on which, for a sum of money, you’ll be taken for a carefree cruise.
Nor is the Comprehensive Plan much like a charter granted to corporations by royal authority or a state agency, conferring certain rights and privileges. Rather, it is an agreement entered into by citizens and their government (elected representatives, salaried employees, and volunteer members of advisory boards and commissions).
Our Comprehensive Plan enacts at the local level the principles and objectives of Washington state’s Growth Management Act, which requires that we plan for and maintain an infrastructure (systems for mobility, commerce, water, electricity, waste disposal, parks, schools, etc.) consistent with our population. (Population throughout our region is expected to grow in the next twenty years and beyond: I’ll say more about this below.)
The facts about our population, community life, and physical infrastructure make up much of the Comp Plan’s bulk, and now, twenty years since the first plan was completed, that information needs to be brought up to date and reinterpreted, as the basis for planning in the years ahead.
To the facts of community life as we each experience them, we join aspirations and concerns about the future of Bainbridge Island. Of the things that we value most, what seems to be at risk? What positive trends should be encouraged, by citizens’ efforts and by changes in public policies? What developments can be managed, and what will we have to put up with or adapt to?
I don’t expect that reform of City government will be a topic for discussion and decisions during the Comp Plan update, but staff in the Public Works and Planning departments will be involved in managing the whole project, and major changes in the Plan and its implementation will entail changes in the missions of those departments.
Land use policies and population growth will be important and difficult topics for discussion during the update: somebody gave 23,300 as our present population, and 28,000 as the estimate for twenty years from now. I don’t know whether that estimate takes into account the population shifts and economic impacts resulting from climate change: 28,000 might be a lowball figure.
You won’t need to learn how to breathe under water, but get ready to ponder the imponderable.
The island’s “carrying capacity” is currently a Rumsfeldian “known unknown.” I trust that before we’re done, people will know better how to talk about our capacity for growth, and also about the prudent use of natural resources that support our quality of life.
To conclude, let me repeat here what I’ve said before: this project, for as long as it takes and as difficult as it may be at times, offers an incomparable opportunity for all the participants to deepen their understanding of this place and its people.