Cookie Cutter Planning Continues in Greene County’s Multi-Modal Corridor Study Workshop

by. Kara Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

 

            The Greene County Planning Commission hosted a workshop on Tuesday, March 31, 2009 to seek public input for the Multi-Modal Corridor Study currently underway in conjunction with the Comprehensive Plan Update. The workshop was coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and Renaissance Planning Group.

 

            The meeting was called to order by Planning Commission Chair, J. Frydl, and then turned over to TJPDC for a presentation. Following the presentation, citizens were divided into workgroups and given a selection of three growth scenarios. Each group was instructed to reach a consensus regarding which of three growth scenarios each group preferred. During the final session of the meeting each group then made a presentation regarding the group’s choice.

 

While Free Enterprise Forum applauds members of the Planning Commission for stepping forward to act as group facilitators for the workshop, it was difficult not be disappointed by TJPDC’s persistence in providing value laden guidance that can’t help but lead individual groups the “correct answer.” Some citizens were surprised that the presentations by individual groups were so similar. Free Enterprise Forum was not so astounded. While the intentions of creating a consensus may seem good, the reality is in the rush to agree on a single scenario dissenting opinions were quickly silenced or discouraged altogether. Also missed was the opportunity to improve on the existing scenarios through open debate and the selection of the best parts of each scenario. 

 

Also disheartening was the low public turnout for the meeting. Most of the public present also participated in one or more of the prior public work sessions. When viewed in terms to the number of staff present (including TJPDC Staff, County Staff, Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors’ members) in comparison to the number of citizens present the lack of public participation becomes more striking. For every staff member/official in attendance there were approximately 2.5 citizens in attendance. This low turn out was yet another factor limiting the diversity of opinion and ideas within each group.

 

As the Comprehensive Plan Update moves into public hearings over the next few months, Free Enterprise Forum strongly urges Greene’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors carefully examine the recommendations it receives and to consider the consequences of pursuing the policies so clearly favored by TJPDC’s staff. It is more important than ever that Greene County’s citizens and business owners come forward and provide their valuable input into the process.

 

And finally, Zion Crossroads did not appear on the maps presented in the meeting. [For readers who would like the full story on how Zion Crossroads temporarily ended up on the map in Greene County click here.]

 

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4 responses

  1. A few comments on Ms. Penella’s observations:

    1) Citizen turnout. I was disappointed as well that we didn’t get more representation from the public. However, the event was well advertised and it was early in an evening when there was no obvious conflict. I don’t see what the County and TJPDC can do but move forward. I note that Ms. Penella offered no alternative solution.

    2) TJPDC Support and Guidance. While I take issue with some of the methodology that TJPDC uses in helping Greene County through this Comprehensive Planning update, I experienced no obvious bias from the TJ Facilitators in one direction or the other. Each individual citizen had a chance to express his or her scenario preference, votes were taken, and the group moved forward with the most popular selection well before much discussion had taken place in group. I would submit that perhaps the reason that more groups picked one scenario over the others had more to do with what those present saw as a “fit” with their personal and family preferences for how they see the County needing to move than with any “leading” by the TJ Facilitators. The Scenario selected tended to favor clustering future growth in three main centers. As the purpose of this “Multi-modal Transportation” exercise is to deal with such topical issues as travel distance, fuel costs, transportation budget support realities from the State, and the expressed, desired preference by citizens to walk, bike and make short car trips within the community, the outcomes made sense to me.

    3) “Cookie Cutter Approach.” Again, while I take issue with some of how the process is moving forward, I don’t think “cookie cutter” would apply. While the “cut and paste” incident was somewhat embarrasing, I didn’t see any sign that this issue hadn’t been corrected and believe that Greene County’s specific situation is divergent enough from Fluvanna that this accusation has and will continue to fall by the wayside. I will admit that this may include a heavy dose of “Hope” on my part.

    4) Finally, FEP appears quick to criticize honest attempts at local governance in Greene County. Grass roots governance is always a long slog, sometimes it seems there is more “plodding along” than purposeful governance. This is not unique to Greene County. Citizen turnout, participation of County Supervisors and staff, as well as consultant Planners can be both a blessing and a curse. But as long as the direction is generally in the direction of what the citizenry expresses, as long as the directions are not radically different from the current Comprehensive/Strategic Plan for the County (and they appear to be moving in that direction), and as long as they make sense to citizens, elected officials, professional Planners, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is difficult to ask for much more.

    All said, Greene County remains in the midst of the planning process so it is early judge the outcome. But the intentions seem honorable, the process is transparent, and the participation of the citizens — even though not as strong as we would like — is vibrant.

    As a citizen, I welcome the Free Enterprise Forum’s participation and critiques — offered in a constructive spirit and, hopefully, recognizing the realities that the County and its citizens face as it continues to plod forward in a hopefully purposeful direction.

  2. [...] new comprehensive plan for Greene County.  While we have been very critical of the process in the past, this event was professionally done and well attended.  The work the TJPDC has done since the [...]

  3. [...] localities with an evangelical zeal.  The Free Enterprise Forum has railed against such cookie cutter planning in the past.  In reviewing an early version of Fluvanna County’s draft comprehensive plan [...]

  4. [...] TJPDC’s maps of Greene County included a blow out map of Zions’  crossroads.  In an April post, we raised the issue of TJPDC promoting groupthink and how county residents were being made to feel [...]

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