Harrisonburg Listens. Be Heard.

DebSF -- April 30th, 2010

Last night, the H’burg Community Development Planning Staff and members of the City Planning Commission met with the public for the first of four input-gathering sessions  for the purpose of gathering reactions and suggestions  to be used in the required update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.  (Full disclosure:  I’m a member of the Harrisonburg City Planning Commission.)

Simms is the place, and folks came and went throughout the evening. Attendance at the 7:15PM mark was about 65, not including city staff, planning commission members and city council.  Stacy Turner, Director of Community Development, kicked off the session with a brief presentation about changing demographics relevant to the discussion, and outlined details about the comp-plan update process.  The city economic development staff, together with the 7-member planning commission have been working together for months to produce this first draft of the  updated plan, now up for review by you guys, the public.  The input sessions continue till May 19.  As we move through the process, all comments and suggestions will be downloaded and transcribed, discussed and evaluated, and the comp-plan will be re-revised according to what you tell us.  Later in the summer, there will be another round of public input sessions on this second edited draft, where we are going to pretty much ask  you:  did we get it right?  Did we hear you and effectively include your concerns in the plan?  Then comes one round of incorporating your responses in a last edit to produce a third draft, which takes a trip to the Planning Commission for discussion and approval, and then the last step:  onto City Council for final passage.

Last night’s session at Simms focused on three chapters of the comp plan:  Chapter 5/ Land Use and Development Quality, Chapter 6 /Neighborhoods & Housing, and Chapter 11/Transportation.

The session was structured to provide a sort of focused flexibility, and worked very well.  The room was divided into roughly three sections; tables in the middle would host discussions about housing and neighborhoods, those to the far right of the stage were deep into transportation and bike-plans, and those to the left of the stage discussed land-use, density and how it relates to neighborhoods and transportation.  Big round tables with lots of chairs, plenty of zoning and land-use maps, blank paper and formal input cards were provided.   People self-divided into groups that matched their interests, clustering around the transportation maps, drawing on them, completing input cards, discussing the pros and cons of what changes should occur first. During various parts of the evening, city planners and staff both sat with various groups to anchor discussion and provide expertise, and then got up to circulate around the tables to answer questions about zoning ordinances, variances, watershed, and may other issues.

Adam Fletcher, the chief City Planner, played the role of facilitator and clock-watcher, suggesting times for switching to new discussion groups in order to give everyone the opportunity to speak to every issue at every table.  Some did, spending a little time on each chapter, and some did not – spending the evening focusing on the issues about which they were most passionate.  At the end of the evening, staff and planning commission members met a lot of people, shook many hands, answered dozens of questions as they circulated among the groups and, most importantly, went home with a big stack of input cards.

If you didn’t have the chance to attend and you’d like to provide input on these sessions, there’s an electronic form designed specifically for this purpose.  Responses have started to come through – a trickle, so far.  This is the kind of flood, though, we would welcome, so log on and tell them what you think.

Here are the remaining meetings, all at Simms, all at 7PM.

Wednesday, May 5th – Natural Resources and Community & Safety Issues

Chapter 9 Natural Resources

Chapter 10 Parks & Recreation

Chapter 12 Community Facilities, Services, Safety & Health

Chapter 13 Economic Development & Tourism

Thursday, May 13th – Cultural Resources and Revitalization

Chapter 7 Education, Arts & Culture

Chapter 8 Historic Resources

Chapter 13 Economic Development & Tourism

Chapter 14 Revitalization

Wednesday, May 19th – Housing and Collaboration

Chapter 6 Neighborhoods & Housing

Chapter 12 Community Facilities, Services, Safety & Health

Chapter 15 Community Engagement & Collaboration

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10 Responses to “Harrisonburg Listens. Be Heard.”

  1. I arrived about an hour late, but joined a table discussion about land use and development (I think — there were many tables, and I was unclear on which table went with which topic).

    A resident of the northeast neighborhood (Nikita?) was there to discuss the development of the neighborhood between Washington Street and East Market. He said the northeast is a desert: there’s no where close to buy groceries. Instead, it’s full of odd businesses and used car lots. He also said the people of his neighborhood are less affluent, and less likely to organize and hold sway over the Planning Commission and City Council than many other neighborhoods.

    It was good to see so many people involved — a sharp contrast from what happened in Charlottesville just a few days ago, where only two people showed up.

    Kudos to the organizers of last night’s meeting in Harrisonburg. I don’t know what Kai’s level of involvement with it was, but it seemed to have his fingerprints all over it (breakout sessions instead of one main event, similar to the summits).

  2. DebSF says:

    One of the most intriguing ideas came last night in one of the neighborhood/sustainability discussions, through a series of conversations with Mike Wong, Housing guru in the city. This table got into the issue of accountability to the plan. How do we know the city is actually working on this stuff we work so hard to develop? We got talking about one of the goals in chapter 6, and started tossing out ideas on how the encouragement of neighborhood associations can be used in mixed neighborhoods (townies and students) to lessen the conflicts we seek and to somewhat dampen some of the negative conflict due to, most recently, Spring-Fest.

    Imagine; a mixed family/student neighborhood association, where people get to know each other and start to lessen the adversarial relationship with JMu that has intensified over the last month. Starts with a desert party in a couple of people’s driveways on Mason Street. Devil Dogs for Dukes. Cookies and Cakes for College Students. Interesting and fun idea.

    I think there’s something there. Come on down to the next one. Meet some people, ride your bike, treat yourself to Klines afterward. Just for the record, at South Main:

    Apr 29 = Cake Batter, so this is your incentivized reason for coming to Wednesday, May 5th’s session on Natural Resources and Community & Safety Issues

    On May 6, it’s my favorite Black RaZZZberry. So come to Thursday, May 13th’s session on Cultural Resources and Revitalization and treat yourself afterward.

    May 13 Banana starts, so after the Wednesday, May 19th on Housing and Collaboration.

  3. Speaking of development, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Kai has the support of both Ron Carrier and Bill Neff who would like to develop the heck out of our local area…

    I wonder if they’re supporting Kai to get him off of City Council…I hear both aren’t fond of his votes there.

  4. Speaking of Harrisonburg, did anyone else happen to notice the illegal weapons policy spelled out in the Summer City Recreation brochure…city government has no authority to ban weapons from their Parks under § 15.2-915 of the Code of Virginia…the General Assembly seems ot have juiced up the statute recently to provide for attorney fees for people who successfully challenge an illegal policy.


  5. Anne Lorimer says:

    Brent: do you happen to know Mr. Nikita’s opinion of the future Friendly City Food Coop?

    I agree, this events’ organizers deserve a lot of credit, and the format was great. I especially enjoyed being able to flag down an expert whenever there was something we couldn’t figure out or wanted to know how to change.

  6. Jamie Smith says:

    Briggster, what would Ron Carrier possibly have against Kai being on council. He’s bearing down on 78 years old and has certainly made his mark around here. I doubt city council crosses his mind very often.
    As far as Neff is concerned, he’s pretty well “developed the heck” out of the area already.
    I’m taking a tennis class at Parks and Rec this summer and I’ve already told them I’ll be packing!
    Stay tuned!

  7. Frank J Witt says:

    as for groceries, isn’t Rose’s ONE block away from Washington Street? Maybe if you talk to management and voice your concerns about what they might be lacking, they may just increase your choices. Helps you and them…

  8. David Miller says:

    I’m trying to attend the next one, I’m now even more regretful to have missed this first meeting. Thank you to City officials who take these measures to ensure this depth of citizen involvement in planning.

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