Comprehensive Planning with the Community
Discussing comprehensive planning is not typically at the top of people’s list of things to discuss over the dinner table or with neighbors in the evenings. But what many of us fail to realize is how important the Comprehensive Plan for a region can be. The Cambridge, Maryland community was similar, until plans for a large development project that would have changed the whole character of the town forced community members to pay attention to zoning and land use planning.
In 2008, a 1,000 acre project was proposed for the community that would have added 3,200 homes and a golf course to the community of about 1,200. Such a large project and the possibility of drastic change in the town got the community’s attention. Together with local planners, city officials, and university architecture schools, community members and main street groups decided to change the course of planning in their communities. They held over 75 public meetings to gather public input, asking residents what they envisioned for the town. This public input and collaboration process assisted the creation of a new comprehensive plan for the community that was designed to “help prioritize community needs and investments…publicly announce and renew commitments to people, places, and to ideas, [and] give direction to all who would accept responsibility for the well-being of their city.” After the adoption of this new community-driven comprehensive plan, Cambridge is now working to update zoning regulations and will recommend a draft Unified Development Code.
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission engaged public input for the creation of an updated comprehensive plan back in 2005. I’m betting that most people have not read the entire document, but the Comprehensive Plan…The Lehigh Valley 2030 certainly should be more familiar to community members and municipal officials. The region will be adding another 145,000 people to our communities over the next 20 years. Where will these people live? Will there be affordable housing options? What will the impact be on infrastructure and public services? How will such growth impact economic development and job availability? Just as Cambridge, Maryland received assistance from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities for its planning efforts, so too has the Lehigh Valley received federal assistance. Envision Lehigh Valley is a grant-funded project through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities aimed at enhancing our Current Comprehensive Plan to make it more sustainable. And, just as Cambridge asked the community for input on their vision for their communities, so too are we asking the community to envision the Lehigh Valley’s future.
I won’t sugarcoat it; planning and codes is not always the most exciting topic for evening discussion. But it is absolutely necessary for us as a community to be aware of the implications these comprehensive plans have on our future. We need your input as the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and other members of the Sustainability Consortium work together to create a regional sustainability plan for the Lehigh Valley. Cambridge, Maryland has proven that it can work with very positive results. Join us and share your vision for the sustainable future of the Lehigh Valley and public forums scheduled this fall focused on fair housing, fresh food access, affordable housing, economic development, transit, and energy efficiency.