Thursday, August 07, 2008

Emma Creek, the public process, and the assembly

One thing about involving the public in any planning process: it's messy. All those people throwing out their two cents, some of them informed, some of them not, some of them angry, some of them happy, some of them loons, some of them visionaries. I've listened to or participated in several borough assembly meetings, and I have always been impressed with the stupendous patience shown by the assembly members, by and large. (Every once in a while, a borough assemblyperson has been a real snot, but that's pretty rare.) These people have to sit up there for hours and listen to all kinds of blather. And it is their duty to really listen--that's the hard part. And it is important that they do so.

Likewise, there are other levels of borough government where public involvement is very important, even more so than the public airing that items at an assembly meeting get. The planning stages of all the things that end up getting to the assembly, the work sessions, the commission meetings, and so forth, are where the real work happens. And this is where the involvement of the public can reduce the anger and histrionics that sometimes happen at the assembly meetings--where not much can be done to fix an ordinance or resolution or zoning decision other than to accept, reject, or maybe amend it. But the assembly only has a little bit of time to think about whether a particular amendment is appropriate, so really, this is the last-ditch place to get the public will reflected.

With the Emma Creek subdivisions proposed by the borough, there's been a lot of ire in the Ester area--primarily because of the effort involved in getting designs that reflect and incorporate the sense of community here--and that do so from the get-go, i.e., that involve the people (PDF) who live here in the design process in a meaningful way. Official notice of various meetings has been sent out, of course, but not to the local paper, and not to anybody who is not directly adjoining the property in question. With the first Emma Creek subdivision, Emma Creek West, the original design was done and presented, and a huge outcry resulted because people felt they'd been brought in to the process way too late and there were a ton of design problems with the subdivision, ones that would cause traffic hazards, unecessary expense to future landowners in the subdivision, and created sprawl rather than community.

Ester mobilized, and got a big group together, and the design for Emma Creek West was modified to the satisfaction of the various parties. The group asked to be kept informed of further design efforts in the Ester area, and many people submitted their e-mails so that they could be easily contacted--we knew Emma Creek East was coming up. However, the contacts were made as before without the notification the Ester Planning Committee had asked for, and although a design meeting was held at the Ester Fire station, the treatment of the pubic by the presenters had my husband, among others, spitting nails, and feeling left out once again. Now the subdivision sale is withdrawn and the borough is looking at the process whereby the lands are developed--and whether the public should be involved and how.

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