By. Neil Williamson
When an application is moving through the often byzantine approval process, is direct conflict helpful or harmful to the over arching goal of a well designed, well executed plan? In any land use change, (zoning text amendment, rezoning, special use permit, etc.) a land owner is asking for a change or alteration to the status quo. The goal of the change is to legally pursue their goals for their land.
How should the locality react to such a request?
Does it depend on the application?
Does it depend on the application’s conformity to the comprehensive plan?
Does it depend on the localities experience with the applicant?
While of course all of these enter into the ultimate resolution of any application, each locality has its own personality on this issue. On one extreme some years ago, one locality had pencils for their applicants to use that said “permit us to permit you”.
Perhaps an example of the other extreme was in evidence Tuesday night at the Albemarle County Planning Commission (12/09), one commissioner said all developers would prefer to have no zoning whatsoever so they might do as they like. He suggested the result of such freedom would be like Houston Texas, which in architect’s school is held up as a bad example.
Having attended the Preserving the American Dream Conference in Houston earlier this year, I can report that Houston, with no zoning, has places that look exceedingly well planned and areas that do not. I contend that Albemarle County has the same mix of well planned and ill planned areas even with the adoption of zoning in 1980.
The larger issue is the level of applicant contempt exhibited by the planning commissioner. As one charged with evaluating such applications for approval, it is hard to understand such an anti-applicant prejudice. The development community is not a monolith any more than the environmental community or the architectural community. As a later speaker mentioned, applicants tend to be large land owners. They see zoning as protection for their investment. To dismiss the entire development community as wanting to put one over on the locality is not only wrong, it is insulting.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes by sharing the goals of the comprehensive plan and evaluating applications against those specific goals, direct conflict is not required. Adjusting a plan to meet the locality’s ever changing comprehensive plan priorities requires conversation and compromise on all sides.
If those charged with approval of land use changes start from a position of distrust of all applicants, without cause, conflict will occur. The resolution, or non-resolution, to conflict based in improper prejudice does not help the deliberative public process.
The public deserves better.