COLUMBIA — Two months after starting the heavy lifting needed to draft a comprehensive growth plan for Columbia, the Planning Department and Planning and Zoning Commission are looking for 15 citizens to help develop the plan and involve the community.
The commission and planning staff began the process of rolling the city’s scattered planning documents into a more comprehensive document in late May, after the City Council made developing one a priority last year and allocated $125,000 for it in the 2009 budget. In May, the council authorized the formation of a task force to help the commission develop a document that, in theory, would provide a guide for updating land-use regulations, revising zoning codes and prioritizing infrastructure projects.
“I think the idea is we want to get a good representation of the city’s various stakeholder groups,” commission Chairman Jeff Barrow said of the task force that will be solely responsible for helping to develop the plan. “The flip side is we would want these people to go back to their groups and constituents and let them know how the plan is being developed.”
After a summer of Thursday-night work sessions with the Planning and Zoning Commission discussing the plan, the Planning Department submitted a report outlining the process for appointing a task force, which the council heard Monday night. The report states it is common for cities to appoint special task forces or committees when developing a comprehensive growth plan. One of the problems encountered by Columbia’s 2001 Metro 2020 plan, considered the city’s most comprehensive planning document, was a feeling of exclusion by some citizens. The hope for the task force is to make the plan a more bottom-up process.
“The task force will be working on it and have a stake in it and will be communicating it, so we don’t have a disgruntled minority fighting the plan,” Barrow said.
The city’s visioning development citizen topic group recommended the formation of a comprehensive plan task force, and one of the primary credentials the commission recommended that the council consider before appointing task force members is whether they participated in the visioning process. The Planning and Zoning Commission will offer comments to the council on the task force applicants, but the council will have final say.
A tentative application schedule sets three application deadlines, the first on Sept. 4, the second on Oct. 9 and the third on Nov. 6. he council will have the opportunity to interview those that apply. The hope is for the task force to be appointed by December or January 2010 and the plan, along with a report on specific changes to development codes, to be complete by September 2011.
The city will advertise the task force, and Barrow said anyone can apply, but specific invites and notifications will go to those involved in the visioning process as well as “the usual suspects”: neighborhood activists and development community representatives.
Commissioner Ann Peters said she thinks a good place to start looking for task force members would be the 12 other applicants for the Planning and Zoning Commission vacancy filled two weeks ago. To her, balance is the most important goal in the task force’s composition.
“(I want) people that build communities to people that buy them and live in them,” Peters said.
So far this summer, the commission and planning staff have been working on identifying and gathering pertinent data to be used in establishing a baseline of Columbia’s resources and demographics. They’ve also been reviewing and compiling existing planning documents and development policies, and, in late July, Planning Director Tim Teddy gave the commission an 89-page document listing all the development policies and planning documents the city has.
The commission hopes to be finished with those jobs by the time the task force is appointed. The task force would then help develop the plan’s policy framework, growth management techniques and implementation schedule.
“First we have to find the people, and find out what the community wants,” Peters said.