Comprehensive Plan- Message from the City Manager
From: City Manager Joseph Slocum
June 6, 2014
Municipalities across Maine are encouraged by the State through various financial and other regulatory incentives to periodically (every 10 to 14 years) develop what is called a “Comprehensive Plan”. The idea is for local people to look at almost a dozen different aspects of their communities- including transportation, recreational , public health and safety, economic development - and yes ” Land Use”. The idea is to foster Community growth and well-being by providing a structural outline to make sure that the future plans or goals of that community are developed in a “comprehensive way”.
The process starts out with the Council appointing a Comprehensive Planning Committee of citizens who conduct meetings, gather and review data, listen to experts and discus amongst themselves how best to lay out goals, recommendations and action plans for the future. Belfast appointed such a Committee and they met for several years and eventually delivered their “recommendations” for the future on these dozen or so topics to the City Council. The Comprehensive Planning Commission and the City Council conducted separate Public Hearings on the Commission’s recommendations.
The Comprehensive Plan is no more than a series of recommended policies and themes. It creates no requirements whatsoever- other than the expectation that the goals or proposals will be further evaluated and put through a public process for further consideration and POSSIBLE adoption. It is very common for something to initially look great on paper but later be completely discarded once it was evaluated by the public process of implementation. Normally it can take a Community almost 10 years to “implement” the Comprehensive Plan, just about the time it takes to consider developing a new one.
Keep in mind is that at any time in this long process, recommendations can be significantly changed, ignored as irrelevant or discarded altogether. The Comprehensive Plan offers only general guidance on where the community may want to be in the future -and it encourages further assessment as those themes and goals are more intimately evaluated over the ensuing years in the “Implementation Process.”
The Belfast City Council accepted the recommendations of the Comprehensive Planning Commission and then spent more than a year to specifically review the recommended goals, policy or theme changes to the Land Use Ordinances. The Council, sitting at that time, adopted or modified or changed some of those many Land Use recommendations. When the Council was done they still only had a series of recommended policies, goals and themes.
To put these goals under the microscope the Council imposed upon the Planning Board, who are called upon throughout the year to know and apply our Land Use regulations, the task of drafting these goals, policies and themes into real language. During that intensive dialogue, as the Planning Board examines these issues very close to the bone- they may make a different recommendation on some of these issues.
When the Planning Board is comfortable with its draft recommendations, they publish them to the Community and they provide an opportunity for public comment upon them. Soon many people in Belfast will be getting letters in the mail notifying them about the public hearing that impacts their neighborhood.
Our goal is to give the public the ability to examine the proposed changes before the Hearing (on the web and personal inspection at City Hall), and also to give a presentation on these proposed changes at the actual Hearing. After the Planning Board has conducted these Hearings they will fall back and reconsider their draft recommendations. When they are done they deliver their recommendations to the Council.
The Council will review the Planning Boards recommended language and they will also note where the Planning Board made different recommendations than the Council was originally supporting. This is a process where there is continuing thoughtful participation and discussion. The Council will decide if it needs to make any alterations to the Planning Boards recommendations before they conduct yet another set of Public Hearings on what the Council seems willing to support. The Council can accept or modify any recommendation or the language of any recommendation. At the end of those hearings the Council will fall back and decide whether they wish to make further changes.
Eventually the Council will make a decision on what to adopt and what not to adopt. It’s hard to get everyone on the same page but we will do our best to make this a fair and clean process.
Thanks for considering these comments.