Planning to fix Planning

There has been an effort to sweep this report under the rug. I have no intention of letting that happen.

If you have never heard of the Planning Administrative Services Committee (PASC), here is a crash course on who they are, what they do, and why they are the biggest contributor to the current disfunction in the Planning Department.

The PASC is the body that oversees the shared planning department. Good idea in theory, failed in practice. The body is made up of 2 County Commissioners, 2 City Council Members, 1 representative from small cities, and 1 representative from townships. Olmsted County has a population of about 150k, Rochester is about 115k. The city is 77% of the Population, about 33% of the PASC, and currently suffering about 100% of the problems. In short we are understaffed, have an unrealistic pay scale, are missing key skills, have outdated land use, comprehensive, and zoning plans, and have been slow to update them. The Planning department has largely lost the trust of many neighborhoods which they have interacted with.

The purpose of the PASC is to guide the Planning Department. In reality they do so little that the default control has resorted to the county. The Planning Department easily meets the requirements of the county, small towns, and townships. As such the County has no need to increase staffing or adjust the pay scale to what it needs to be to attract urban talent. The Planning Department comes nowhere near what we need. This is why the current system is broken.

The minutes from the PASC Meeting that took up this report shows just how detached some elected officials are from reality.

Check out some of these exchanges:

  • Mr. Bier stated that people responding to online surveys typically have “concerns”. Therefore, it skews the graphs. He expressed concern with basing a plan on survey results.
  • Mr. Staver stated that they have seen skewed results.
  • Mr. Shardlow explained that the in-person interviews should have taken individuals 10-15 minutes. However, the average interview lasted 45 minutes. People were very interested in the subject and wanted to talk.
  • Mr. Shardlow explained that other case studies of communities with similar growth were used in preparing the report. In those communities, there were staff dedicated to communications and engagement, in-house urban design expertise, sustainability, resilience and long-range planning.
  • Mr. Staver explained the importance of clarifying neighborhood association roles and responsibilities.
  • Mr. Bier stated that neighborhood involvement should be considered “input” and no necessarily “policy”.
  • Mr. Shardlow stated that other communities have involved neighborhood representatives to be part of creating the standards and the process results in them being less involved when the City is reviewing specific development projects. He explained the importance of strong communication.
  • Mr. Staver explained that a department neighborhood liaison could take up a large amount of time.
  • Mr. Shardlow stated that someone needs to communicate their role and responsibilities and maintain continual positive communication.
  • Mr. Shardlow reviewed summary findings and key unmet needs from the report.
  • Mr. Staver stated that there have been incremental revisions to Plans and Ordinances over the years. Therefore, stating the plans are “outdated” is incorrect.
  • Discussion ensued regarding who benefits and should pay for additional planning costs. Mr. Shardlow stated that everyone benefits from development across the City of Rochester.
  • Mr. Staver stated that having a consolidated department forces us to keep everyone at the table working together as a unit.
  • Mr. Shardlow expressed the added need to address succession and to recruit people.

Steps:

  1. Staffing Plan ahead of City Budget decisions
  2. Public Hearing on Stantec Report
  3. Short of a strategic plan that quickly addresses shortcomings; the planning department should be transferred to the city OR broken into separate entities.

I keep hearing that sharing these resources saves tax payers money. This is far from the truth. In reality, that lack of real planning hurts the ongoing economic productivity of the community and cohesion in neighborhoods.

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