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Process in the public sphere: It matters.

September 14, 2010

Last night Council unanimously pledged support for a low-income rental housing tax credit application tied to a 55-unit senior housing development on Borough land near the riverfront. In a kind of post-game analysis, here I step back from the project itself to talk a bit about process.

1) Ideally, a town would have adopted land use and economic development plans that spell out what they want in each area of their town. Then, when any authorized municipal representative is talking to any developers about that area, they are on the same page with what the community planned and agreed to.

2) Ideally, if a town is looking to develop land that it owns, it would put out a Request for Proposals and seek competitive proposals/bids. The RFP and this process would all be public. There would be no private conversations with any developers during this process.

3) Opening the bids: here’s where it gets sticky. In most places, negotiations involving land transactions and real estate development by governmental entities are not subject to right-to-know laws. All parties need to know that they can work out the financial end of a deal without the press & the public breathing down their necks. Confidentiality is paramount. Here’s where you have to have faith in your elected officials to agree to what’s in the best interests of the community and select the top bidder(s) accordingly.

4) If there are no clear frontrunners, in an ideal world, the top 2-3 bids/plans would be publicly presented and community input would be sought at that point.

Four necessary components:
• community-approved land use & economic development plans
• a clear & transparent RFP process
• time and timelines
• community input on selected proposals

Obviously, none of this protocol was followed in this case, which really is not unusual in many small towns and even larger towns where no one’s paying attention. Or where there’s an entrenched way of doing things: This is how we’ve always done it. But it has the whiff of a back-room deal that was foisted on the public pretty late in the game. All I’m saying is, there’s another way to do things, where leaders and the community are engaged in more meaningful ways througout the entire process.

Imagine this: 55 units of low-income, senior rental housing in the middle of a comprehensive waterfront plan that includes a few hundred upscale condos, commercial development and recreational uses. Then the low-income housing is a mere blip in the middle of that; no big deal. You wouldn’t have heard a peep outta me!

Imagine this: There are multiple economic development initiatives underway across town that involve County funding, and this housing is a trade-off in some way in the context of a larger plan that may not even specifically include the waterfront. That could be fine too. Trade-offs – compromise – that’s how things get done.

It’s the fact that you’re leading the way, selling off your own land, with no vision or plan, for what? Low-income rentals? That doesn’t compute.

My frustration comes out of the Borough not being in charge of its own destiny in the first place – not having a clue what the community wants, not having an economic development leader on your team, not doing your due diligence, not making people answer your questions straight-up, not demanding a printed handout of the project proposal & parameters — basically, not asserting yourself. And then being forced to settle. Settle for whoever shows up. It doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t.

Unearth your vision – plan – strategize – set goals – implement with a vengeance.

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6 Comments
  1. Dianne Krumm permalink
    September 14, 2010 4:50 pm

    This reminds me of the time the boro sold the land to the Mercury at a pittance, then spent the boro (or as I see it, the taxpayers) big dollars to clean up the toxic waste, when the Mercury should have investagated the land before they bought it. The Merucry ran into money problems and bought it back at market price.
    We have no developement plan. And as my Dad told me “If you don’t have a plan in life, you will get nowhere.
    We should stop this and all developement until there is a comphrensive plan that is presented to the public.
    PS: Excuse any spelling errors, I get excited and the finger just move.

    • September 14, 2010 5:03 pm

      Hi, Dianne – thanks for following and writing in. I’ve heard only a little about the situation you describe, not having followed the town’s activities at the time.

      The tough thing about doing comprehensive planning is that life keeps moving along in the meantime, and there’s no way to really stop it You just have to try to keep one step ahead and stick to a schedule to have the meetings, talk to people, develop and write up any new plans or additions to the existing ones. I think people are becoming more aware and really want to do the right thing as far as development is concerned. It’s hard to change all of a sudden, or have a bunch of people start showing up to meetings and putting on the pressure.

      Don’t worry about the spelling! I get excited too and it just comes rushing out 🙂

  2. Marie C Stewart permalink
    September 15, 2010 10:38 am

    From my seat in the Pottstown peanut gallery, you are making valid points.

    • September 15, 2010 11:08 am

      Hi, Marie – Thanks for reading. Now come out of the peanut gallery and join in the fray — it’s fun down here! 🙂

  3. September 15, 2010 1:42 pm

    It is amazing and wonderful to see new names on the roster here! This blog is providing an absolutely FREE for the taking education in planning and all other related topics.

    Knowledge is Power – let’s not waste it!

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