Mayor's Letter #2
I am going to follow up on some of the thoughts I wrote about in Letter #1 last week. I wrote about DuPont as a master planned community and some of the challenges with that type of development. In talking with people who have experienced master planned communities elsewhere, our experience is not unique. When Weyerhaeuser purchased the property around the small town of DuPont and started working with the local government to plan and zone a much larger city, it is no surprise that the pace and scale of the project far exceeded the capacity of the local officials to deal with appropriately. This issue of local government capacity to meet the requirements of a large development is very common and often the small town feels overwhelmed by the demands to keep up with development. I attribute this to many of the shortcomings we see when we look back at how the city grew. I highlighted the issue of unrestricted warehousing being added north of Center Dr in 2002 and how this is an example of actions not meeting intent. I have often heard that the current intent does not meet the vision expressed in our Comprehensive Plan for retaining a "Small Town Feel". I absolutely agree. Now let's look at how that happens and how we can prevent that in the future.
The documents that guide how development occurs are layered. The Comprehensive Plan is a visioning document. This is very strategic and long range expressing the communities vision of how their city will develop and grow. It should address all aspects of the city from economic to environmental, historical, recreational etc. Although important, the Comprehensive Plan does not provide the legal underpinning to direct or limit development. The follow on documents create statutes or ordinances that provide the legal tools to direct and shape development. So in 2002 when the City Council approved a Comprehensive Plan or an update that included "Small Town Feel" then turned around and added unrestricted zoning North of Center Drive to zoning regulations, the Comprehensive Plan was undercut by concrete changes to the zoning regulations. That was a failure to translate public intent into actionable regulations.
In 2016 we had the better outcome to this process. There was an approved development agreement between the property owners and the City of DuPont regarding development in the Old Fort Lake Area (land around the golf course, including the golf course) signed in 2006. This development agreement reinforced the existing zoning of a Business Technology Park specifically prohibiting warehousing as an activity. This was an adequate plan, but most of us on Council or the Planning Commission knew it was not perfect. It allowed for an entrance on Wren (adjacent to PMS) and allowed for larger buildings than we thought appropriate. We were obligated to support that plan until it expired in 2016. At that time we began a sub-area plan update (portion of the Comprehensive Plan specifically addressing the OFL area). Coincidentally a representative of a potential buyer approached us about the area. This allowed us to update the zoning and accompanying development regulations to both shape the potential future development according to the communities vision but to also have input from a potential developer to help us insure whatever we came up with would also be economically viable. This sounds compatible, and it was, until the developers representative began pushing for the inclusion of warehousing. Those of you who were involved in the process know how heated this got. Allowing someone to ask the question does not mean I support it. In private I let the developer know that this request was dead on arrival, but he was free to ask. The Planning Commission held several public hearings and the public outcry was deafening. Knowing how warehouses slipped into our zoning in 2002 with little or no opposition, I was extremely proud of our city in how across the board, everyone put their foot down and made our community intent known. Not only did we uphold our existing prohibition on warehousing, we limited building size with both a total and lot based restriction, limited access points and developed very detailed policies for 9 separate areas within OFL to create a future for that area that will be beneficial to our residents, bring real value to the city and add unique assets we currently lack. This was how a process should work.
The new warehouses in the Cubes area are the result of property owners getting their way in 2002 with a city that had not yet matured its internal processes to protect and shape development.
In 2016, the linkage between Comprehensive Plan, Sub-Area Plan, Zoning Codes and Development Regulations with ample publicity and public hearings related to the Old Fort Lake Area reflect a City; elected officials, staff, appointed planning commission and active/engaged residents that used their available tools to create a series of documents from visionary to concrete and specific that expressed their long term intent for how a key area of the city can eventually be developed. This was a vigorous, sometimes contentious process that had rigor and scrutiny. Our challenge is to not lose that level of engagement. I would identify three key components that made this successful.
1. Good Planning Commissioners (Led by Chris Barnes) who take their role seriously
2. A Community Development Director (Jeff Wilson) and Attorney (Gordon Karg) who understood this process and the importance of each document and were willing to guide the process.
3. An engaged public who pay attention and participate.
I would also add our City Administrator Ted Danek who helped me to keep all the pieces moving in the right direction, and kept us objective and unbiased throughout the process,
This was a big win for our City and I look forward to how the eventual development around OFL will take place. It is imperative to all of us that we not forget what it took to shape the process and although developers are not "the enemy", their interests may not fully align with the City's and unless we use the tools and processes we have to shape the process, it will shape us.
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