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  20 Questions to ask about City Planning and Development
April 3, 2005
For those of you who frequently correspond with me regarding planning and development projects in Richmond, here are some questions for City staff suggested by the Local Government Commission (LGC) www.lgc.org.  The LGC states: “The most effective elected officials know how to ask the right questions. The following questions are designed for use by local leaders interested in making their communities more livable, healthy, and economically successful.”  Unfortunately, I believe that for too many of them, the answer is “no.”

 20 Questions:

1.        Are you familiar with Smart Growth, the Ahwahnee Principles or the New Urbanism? Have you attended any conferences or read any books or articles on this topic?

2.       Are you familiar with Form Based Codes and the Transect as a visioning tool?

3.       Does the city manager, planning director, and public works director share a common vision with the city council, or is each project reviewed through a hierarchical process?

4.       Has the staff worked with citizens to create a common vision for the community, or is citizen input confined to gathering reacting to specific project proposals.

5.       Is our General Plan consistent with Smart Growth or the Ahwahnee Principles?

6.       Are our implementing ordinances consistent with our general plan?

7.       Do we have overlay ordinances for Transit Oriented Development and Traditional Neighborhood Development? Do we offer incentives for their use?

8.       Do we have a mixed-use ordinance – how do we define mixed use?

9.       What are our street width standards? Are those also applied to PUDs?

10.    What is the position of our parks and recreation department regarding pocket parks?

11.    Are our usual standards for parking, street widths, parks, etc. applied do PUDs, or do we allow flexibility to innovative projects.

12.    Do the planning/public works departments have overall parking standards or do we reduce parking requirements under certain conditions – i.e. for transit oriented development, where there are opportunities for shared parking, car sharing, etc.)

13.    Are the public works and planning departments aware of the new EPA requirements for urban runoff? If so, are these being enforced?

14.    Is the PUD process set up to allow rapid processing of innovative projects or do we require a variance for each feature that doesn’t comply with our usual standards?

15.    What are our priorities of our various departments for capital improvements? Are they consistent with the Blueprint Principles (or Smart Growth Principles)?

16.    Does staff consider land use when you do transportation planning? Do our public works and planning departments work together when submitting capital projects to the MPO for transportation funding?

17.    Does our staff provide guidance to developers prior to the submission of their plans or do they just react to what is submitted?

18.    How do you look at your role as a planner? Do you see yourself as enforcing existing codes or to you feel you can be more flexible? Is the information required under project review more quantitative or qualitative?

19.    Do our various departments (planning, public works, parks and recreation, police, health, etc.) meet together with the developers to review proposed plans for new development?

20.    On larger projects, is there citizen input throughout the entire process or is citizen input limited to public hearings at the end of the process?