We got into the discussion because one of the leaders had attended last weeks planning and zoning commission meeting. The person observed that: "...none of the three applicants used specific policy statements from the General Plan to support their position. This is precisely what applicants have as their burden ... to show consistency with the General Plan." The individual also observed that none of the Commissioners did either!
Our zoning code charges the Planning and Zoning Department with the responsibility of "maintaining the General Plan". They do. They keep track of each of the plan's aspects. They report the result of this analysis periodically. They also initiate minor and major amendments to the plan. They also remind those applying for a plan amendment to demonstrate why a change from the plan is essential.
Is this enough?
We ask because it is clear to us that the words in the plan are ignored and never discussed as part of the amendment process. For example, "One agenda item," notes one of our leaders, " - the Vistoso Highlands property - in Rancho Vistoso was perhaps revealing. The property is currently designated Neighborhood Commercial, and the amendment was to change that designation to Medium Density Residential. [General Plan] policy 1.5.4 that states: 'The Town shall ensure that areas appropriately zoned and planned for neighborhood commercial use are developed.'".
The individual further observed: "As this parcel has been undeveloped for twenty + years, some commissioners preferred to judge the issue on market demand. No market demand = no reason to pursue the designated use."
There are 3 problems with implementing the general plan at only the highest level:
- There is no mechanism built into the General Plan or the planning process that requires elected officials or town employees to implement the plan. The only area where there is possible enforcement is in “land use.” Otherwise, the rest of the plan is merely visionary.
- The process for amending the plan easily allows for amending the plan. Minor plan amendments require a simple majority vote of council. Major amendments require a super-majority. From 2010-2012, it was easy to get super-majority approval.
- Finally, we suspect that most who serve on council see the general plan as a guide. As Mayor Hiremath has noted repeatedly, the general plan is merely visionary. It is not “policy.” A guide can be ignored. Policy can not.
One, the citizens of the town of Oro Valley need to elect people who will commit to implementing the letter and the spirit of the general plan. Then, they need to remind these elected officials that the general plan is something they expect to be implemented, not merely a statement of direction and generalities.
Two, the general plan itself needs to include specific provisions that relate to the expectation that the plan will be used to create and implement policy. The statement needs to be more assertive than what is in the Preamble to the 2005 plan: "We intend that the Plan be followed and consistently applied unless and until conditions in the community have changed to the extent that the plan requires amendment or modification." Seems that that clause is interpreted to mean "anytime after the plan has been approved by the voters." Perhaps there should be a statement that no amendments will be permitted for 10 years!
Yes. The plan is a vision. Like any good vision it needs to be converted to policy so that it implemented.
What do you think?