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More than 100 attend first meeting on town comprehensive plan

Sat, Aug 12th 2017 07:00 am
Justin Steinbach, a planner and associate with the firm of Clark Patterson Lee, consultants hired by the Town of Grand Island to help create a new comprehensive plan, moderates a group discussion during the first comprehensive plan exercises Wednesday at Grand Island High School. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Justin Steinbach, a planner and associate with the firm of Clark Patterson Lee, consultants hired by the Town of Grand Island to help create a new comprehensive plan, moderates a group discussion during the first comprehensive plan exercises Wednesday at Grand Island High School. (Photo by Larry Austin)
By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Islanders met Wednesday to lay the foundation for their town's zoning laws and long-term development.
The town's consultants on a comprehensive master plan conducted fact-finding exercises in the first of many steps in building a new master plan for the Town of Grand Island.
About 120 people attended the comprehensive plan meeting compared to the approximately 60 who attended a similarly run community center meeting in June. Both meetings were run by the town's consultants from Clark Patterson Lee and followed the same fact-finding format. That twice as many people attended Wednesday's meeting as compared to the June meeting wasn't a surprise to Grand Island Deputy Supervisor Jim Sharpe, the chairman of the town's Long Range Planning Committee that began the comprehensive plan process. Sharpe pointed out that while the community center proposal concerns one aspect of the community, "This is affecting everything and every piece of fabric of Grand Island."
Brian Kulpa of Clark Patterson Lee, the firm tasked with shepherding the town through its comprehensive plan process, said the state requires towns to have a master plan.
"It forms the legal foundation for all of your zoning and basically any decision you make regarding land use or transportation moving forward," Kulpa told the crowd. "It also provides an opportunity to head towards, or try to, constructively implement a vision."
Those who attended the meeting in the Grand Viking Theater of Grand Island High School broke up into four groups of 30, led by a moderator from Clark Patterson Lee, to give their input on the town's past, present and future.
 "What was here that you liked that you wish you had back, what is here currently that you like that you want to hold onto, and what in the future do you want to see here that's not here currently?" Kulpa asked the attendees.
Kulpa said in the next meeting, probably in October, the data from the past/present/future answers will be translated into land use maps that model parts of the Island.
Before breaking into small groups, Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray said he was glad to see members from a cross section of the community present.
"We need a broad variety of input to make this plan work," he said.
McMurray explained that the town needs a master plan for two reasons: "It stops us from being taken advantage of from developers who may exploit our property or exploit our town"; and a master plan is a prerequisite to receiving federal grant money.
Sharpe, who was at the helm of the last master plan process begin in 1995 and adopted in 1998, praised the consultants for running
"This is a planning exercise with everybody sitting down and giving their ideas and expressing themselves, one on one at every table here. That's what is different from my first approach to this," Sharpe said.
Comprehensive planning isn't a "high-speed" process, Sharpe said. After adopting a master plan in 1998, it took until 2004 for the town to incorporate any zoning changes, Sharpe said.
McMurray said a plan should be updated every five years. Grand Island skipped the steps in the 2000s and most of the 2010s.
"My personal opinion is because comprehensive planning isn't an exercise that is taken easily and it takes a number of people that believe in the process, that believe that you really should establish a baseline of how we should develop and how we should grow," Sharpe said.
Political turmoil caused resistance to the last plan, Sharpe said.
"We had an anti-growth group that was basically every step of the way challenging every step of the process. Right now I believe the community is in harmony," he said.
McMurray said the town's Long Range Planning Committee, reformed over a year ago at the start of his administration, brought together leadership in the town's advisory boards, such as Conservation Advisory Board, Planning board, and Economic Development Advisory Board.
Sharpe added, "The (Long Range Planning) steering committee is really a cross section of what we are. It's apolitical, meaning you have all parties."
McMurray noted the town has "not had an active plan since 1998." If a comprehensive plan is not done right, "we don't have a plan that truly represents the community," he said.
Sharpe said the "torture" of the last 20 years has been the fight over zoning.
"All zoning codes are predicated on your comprehensive plan. You decide what you want and then you write the laws to be the teeth to make it happen," he said.
"If you have a disconnect between your zoning and your comprehensive plan, you have a disrupt of continuity of thought of what the community wants."
"From my perspective, the comprehensive plan is a document that protects the citizen from the elected official who decides to go off and do things that have not been built by consensus of the population," Sharpe said,
Sharpe recalled the conflict over the proposed Lighthouse Point development at the corner of Whitehaven Road and East River Road that called for changing the zoning from single-family residential to a combination of businesses and apartments, "which ran smack into what the neighborhood was expecting to have when they bought. When they bought, they knew what the master plan said. They knew that in their back yard it would be residential ownership."
A project similar in scope to the Lighthouse Pointe proposal, Heron Pointe on Grand Island Boulevard, "is alive and well," Sharpe said, and in what he called the right location. "It's in the town center, where you would expect your apartment developments to be."
McMurray urged Islanders to take part in the comprehensive plan process. He told the audience before breaking into small groups, "Conservation is important to me. Stopping rampant development of apartments is important to me. There are things that are important to each one of you. And if you don't come to these meetings, that voice is not heard."
He asked for a respectful process of open ideas and open minds.
"We can come up with a better plan than any community has. We can have the best plan, the best master plan, one that really reflects our values, our traditions and our future."
Brian Kulpa of consulting firm Clark Patterson Lee leads a small group discussion during a Town of Grand Island comprehensive plan meeting in the Grand Island High School cafeteria Wednesday night. The comprehensive plan "is setting the map that will set the foundation for the laws that will be created, and the enforcement of how things will unfold for the next 20 years" in the town, said Jim Sharpe, chairman of the town of Grand Island Long Range Planning Committee. (Photo by Larry Austin)

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