The Update: What’s Happening in July

Jon Quitslund

Here’s another sketchy account of developments in the month ahead pertaining to the Comprehensive Plan.  There will be two Planning Commission meetings, on the 9th and the 23rd, and two Workshops for public comment: on the Environmental element, Wednesday July 22nd, and on the Economic element, Wednesday July 29 (both in City Hall, 6:30 to 8:30 p. m.).

I’ll comment on the workshops first, then on this month’s Planning Commission meetings.

Public participation in the Workshop sessions can make a big difference in how effectively each of the Comp Plan elements is revised.  We are still working to incorporate the ideas of citizens in the updated Land Use element.  By the end of July the drafting group will shift their focus to the Environmental and Economic elements, and if we can keep to the schedule, the public discussion and Planning Commission decisions on those parts of the Plan will be completed in September.

If you want to participate in either (or both) of the Workshops later in July, there are a few things to bear in mind.  First, read what’s in the current Plan, which is readily available on the Navigate Bainbridge part of the COBI website and can be downloaded.  The principal text of the Environmental element is 24 pp., and the Economic element is 20 pp.

Are the goals and policies in these parts of the current Plan fundamentally sound?  What is out of date?  What should be added, given your view of our current circumstances and the changes, in the foreseeable future, that we should either guard against or bring into being?

If there are passages in the current Plan that strike you as misguided or inadequate, the Workshops offer opportunities to blow the whistle.  Also, if you find that policies set out in the Plan are not being implemented, now is the time to say so, because implementation through ordinances and the Municipal Code will be crucial to the Update’s success.

You are urged, but not required, to put your thoughts in writing and send them to the Planning Department in advance of the Workshop meeting.  Check the Navigate Bainbridge page on the COBI website for more details.  Your written comments will be forwarded to Planning Commissioners.

There are reasons for looking at the Environmental and Economic elements in tandem and coordinating both of them with the Land Use element, which may be revisited and further revised as we go forward.  Within the Land Use goals and policies, there’s an obvious tension between development, in all its forms, and conservation, both of our essential and limited resources and the quality of life that accompanies our sense of place.

Why is “development” a bad word – a word that makes people wince?  It’s because we’ve seen development (i. e., growth) happen without effective conservation strategies.  And development will happen here; it’s all around the region and we can neither run nor hide.  But we can insist on conservation strategies that manage growth; we must.

For a long time, conservation (of water, land, energy, forests, wildlife) was a good idea and a private virtue, but not a focus of public policy, community standards and regulations.  Now, with development pressures increasing, we’re being tested: is there political will and popular support for a break away from ineffective laissez faire attitudes?

If there’s tension between conservation and development, a similar tension is evident when you ponder the agendas of “Environment” and “Economy” together.  Obviously, they are apt to be in conflict, and some would argue that the pursuit of economic gain is bound to harm the natural environment, so environmental protection and the precautionary principle must come first.

I tend to prefer both/and to either/or thinking, seeking a balance between the parts of a complex whole that exist in dynamic tension.  But that’s putting things too abstractly.  Coming down to earth, getting down to cases, let’s try to imagine an economy that can thrive within environmentally determined limits, and let’s recognize the economic potential of a healthy environment.

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In the two meetings this month, the Planning Commission has lots of work to do in revision of the Land Use element.  I expect that in the first meeting, on the 9th, we’ll confirm some changes in policies related to the Neighborhood Service Centers, and preserve the Transfer of Development Rights program – presumably with recommendations that will increase its usefulness.  Plans for an island-wide Conservation Strategy will be discussed: that’s going to be important, and it will form the basis for draft language that will be closely considered on July 23rd.

The agenda for July 9th also includes consideration of six distinct applications for Comp Plan amendments, and two other topics in response to proposals that were submitted during the Workshop on May 7th: policies in the High School Road district, and policies related to local agriculture and food security.

The drafting group will be working on revised language and policy directives for consideration by the Commission and public comment on July 23rd.  It’s been noted that we haven’t yet found ways to introduce responses to climate change in our Land Use policies.  Stay tuned.

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