Thoughts on Neighborhood and Small Area Plans

The City’s White Paper Neighborhood and Small Area Plans (see here for an explanation of the reasons the city staff published this and similar white papers), essentially contains the city’s position on neighborhood plans. While the staff person responsible for drafting this document, and those who signed off on it, appear generally supportive of neighborhood and small area plans, they do not appear to have a clear vision on exactly what they would do with them should neighborhoods begin to adopt and attempt to enforce them.

In fact, I think little more needs to be said on the city’s position than this, found on page 6 of 9:

“The feasible approach to creation of neighborhood plans, given our limited resources, would be the creation of a template that includes standard elements, much like the Comprehensive Plan. This way, neighborhoods could draft plans with limited staff assistance. City leadership and department directors would decide how best these plans could be incorporated into City processes, but likely they would be an advisory document.”

I think any one of us who has paid attention understands how strapped all the departments are in terms of time, budgets, and everything else necessary to implement or even facilitate the creation of a neighborhood plan for one, let alone all neighborhood associations. Aside from the problem of not really having a clear vision of what neighborhood plans are supposed to do, they wouldn’t have the time to deal with them if they did. All is not lost, however. We can take a more positive reading of this phrase to mean something like this: “If neighborhood associations in Olympia want enforceable neighborhood plans, they will need to meet the city 7/8ths of the way at the present time.”

There were two focus meetings on neighborhood planning earlier this year, and this appears to be the result—at least these are the white papers that will ultimately form policy recommendations in the first draft of the comprehensive plan update (assuming the policies in these papers conflicts with the current plan, which I don’t believe it does). If I were looking at the neighborhood planning wall of the comprehensive plan, I’d imagine we won’t see much of a revision from what is currently there.

You should let the city know if you have ideas or suggestions about neighborhood plans and particularly about how the community and its government can bridge the gap that this paper seems to articulate.  More importantly than suggestions to the city, we ought to set out for the first seventh of those eight paces if we want something different than what we have now. If that is effective neighborhood associations, we should start getting them organized, building up active membership bases, coordinating with other neighborhood associations to gain a more comprehensive understanding of what works and what does not. We should avoid relying on the city for these things. The city would certainly benefit from active and effective neighborhood associations, but it cannot create them or even nurture them on its own. Support from the city will follow in due course, but we as residents obviously need to lay the groundwork.

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