Thursday, August 6, 2009

Planning Efforts to Develop Community

I enjoy the fact that my title is Director of Planning and Community Development. While most people associate the department’s work with the planning side, the community development activities are equally important. In many ways we could just be considered the Community Development department, because planning should be part in parcel to community development.

In Dover community development could refer to just the administration of the Community Development Block Grant funds which Dover receives from the Federal government. Dover is considered an entitlement community by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This entitlement designation allows us to annually receive funds to assist low to moderate income members of the community. This funding has been utilized for both improvements to infrastructure (housing rehabilitation) and economic loans (gap financing).

I like to take the more wide-ranging view of community development as the empowerment of individuals and groups of people to effect change in their own community. You might say “huh” after reading that, and a more laymen’s term might be, I see my job being to assist the community in deciding what it wants to be when it grows up. Primarily this is accomplished through the development of the City’s Master Plan, and then through the implementation of the Plan’s recommendations through land use ordinance development.

Another part of the community development aspect is actually being part of the community. I think it speaks volumes to the fact that the City’s Planners, both the professional staff, and volunteers are visible community minded people. The planners have served, outside of work, on a variety of Boards and committees, have coached sports and attend many functions and activities part of their daily lives. This isn’t a requirement of the job or Planning Board appointment, but rather we are lucky enough to attract people who want to be part of the Dover community, professionally and on a volunteer basis.

How does this help shape a community? I think what it does is reinforces that when reviewing a plan application, we can understand what it will be like to live with the resulting plan. There are different levels of plan review. A plan can be reviewed for accuracy from a technical standpoint (Are the parking spaces the correct width? Does the building meet the setbacks?), from a spirit and intent aspect (is the proposal incongruence with the Master Plan), and finally from a community standpoint (does it feel like it should be there).

In many cases the Board relies on neighborhood communication for this level. By being active in the community, I think this expands the Planners’ (professional and volunteers) ability to understand and reflect the Community’s vision for itself, and helps us plan for a more community based planning process.

Community development also contains an increase in participatory planning. Participatory planning is a planning paradigm which focuses the planning process on engaging the entire community in decision making. Again this primarily takes place in developing the Master Plan – this is largely the visioning component.

Over the past two years, Dover has evolved its participatory planning opportunities to include more than just Master Planning. We have embraced things like a visual preference survey (a slide show of development styles and components which allows the public to rate), and increased use of electronic media.

I am increasingly optimistic that we can continue to engage the public through the electronic media, the web. In 2007 we began scanning plans and applications and making them available online. The goal of this project is to allow the public to see the plan set from home, and not need to come to City Hall during normal work hours. Additionally, we have created a map inset on the Planning Department web page ( This map locates the applications for both the upcoming Planning Board and zoning Board of Adjustment meetings. Finally, we have begun using this blog (which unfortunately, takes more time than I anticipated it would, which is why I am not posting as often as I’d like). A Facebook page is in the works and I am sure there are other electronic means we can work towards.

Moving forward, I have proposed to that we look more to the public for areas that we should review in the City’s land use ordinances. In May of 2009, the Planning Board held a public hearing soliciting public input on changes for the land use regulations. This was an attempt to ask the public if there were areas we had not considered yet for review.

This is a valuable tool to involve the public in the land use process. I have spoken with Chairman Ron Cole, about holding these public input sessions three times a year. The next one will be October 20th. At these sessions the public would be invited to suggest areas, not just in the zoning code, but also in the subdivision and site review chapters.

If you are reading this, you are probably interested in planning in Dover. My hope is that you are also interested in the community and being part of how it grows and evolves. More voices should be heard. The City has outreach opportunities, but you should not wait to be heard. I encourage you, if you have thoughts and ideas about Dover’s evolution, be proactive and reach out and let me know your thoughts, and please attend Citizen’s Forum at the Planning Board (Generally, meets the 4th Tuesday of the month), or the upcoming land use regulation public hearing in October.

As always, thanks for reading this.I am working on a way to schedule time for a weekly blog. Wish me luck.

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