Monday, May 21, 2018
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Perrysburg plan's 'strategies' causing concern

To include or not to include?

The question has arisen over the update of Perrysburg's comprehensive plan - a process called People Planning Perrysburg, or more simply P3, that has been under way for almost two years.

The issue concerns the plan's "strategies," which specify steps to be taken to achieve the goals of the plan.

Should they be included in the Perrysburg Municipal Code, giving them the force of law? Or should they be a codicil intended as a nonbinding guide for development in the city for years to come?

Officials have been mulling the matter.

A strategy in the land use chapter of the draft update, for instance, states:

"Acquiring additional parkland as the City grows was mentioned by members of the public as being important to maintaining a community's quality of life .•.•.•. As newer neighborhoods develop, smaller scale neighborhood parks should be constructed to serve neighborhood residents."

The problem here to some officials is that the strategies, once the update is adopted, would be incorporated in the zoning code, which means they become law.

The relevant part of the Perrysburg code reads: "This Zoning Code shall serve the gen-eral good of the community as a whole, protect property values, and secure the most appropriate use of the land, in accordance with the adopted City of Perrysburg Comprehensive Plan by City Council and any additions and amendments as may be approved by the Planning Commission and City Council." [Emphasis added.]

City Council President Joe Lawless noted that strategies such as the one quoted above, if enshrined in law, would compel future councils to spend money they may not want to spend.

"I'm not sure we are able to commit future councils to spend money on anything," he told a planning and zoning committee meeting last week.

In any event, the committee, which is reviewing the draft update, decided to remove "smaller scale" from the strategy for parks because small parks are expensive to maintain.

This, however, did not address the larger issue of tying the hands of future councils by including the strategies in the update. Mr. Lawless said the strategies should be separated from the rest of the comprehensive plan and be advisory only.

Council members Tim McCarthy and Tom Mackin, both attorneys, disagreed that the strategies would commit future councils. "I never viewed these as a binding blueprint," Mr. McCarthy said.

Mike Liebenthal, a co-chair of the steering committee overseeing the update, agreed that the comprehensive plan was a guide, not a mandate, and wondered why this concern was raised only recently.

Councilman Mike Olmstead said he thought putting the strategies in the code was a bad idea.

City Administrator John Alexander weighed in on the issue last month. He sent a memorandum to Mayor Nelson Evans in which he recommended that the strategies not be "granted Municipal Code status."

Mr. Alexander wrote: "My concern lies with the multitude of Strategies that are spelled out in the plan. In most cases, they will and should provide a catalyst for discussion and development of public policy initiatives. It is my belief that the Strategies must be limited to that scope. They must be construed only as components of other factors when building public policy."

But stripping away the strategies would "cut the heart out of the plan," Mr. Liebenthal and Kate MacPherson, the steering committee's other co-chair, wrote in an e-mail to steering committee members.

Mr. Liebenthal and Ms. MacPherson advocated amending the municipal code to make clear that the strategies were not to be construed as a mandate.

"Our suggested solution to the Planning and Zoning Committee is that we look at the legislation, not the plan," they wrote. "Drafting legislation that further defines what a Comprehensive Plan means to the community would serve the community's interest as a whole, while not mandating action steps as a Codified Ordinance. To see this document as a Visioning Statement and/or Guidance piece would protect the fabric of the plan while allowing the Administration and Council flexibility in conducting City business now and in the future."

Mr. Lawless said he too believed this was a reasonable way to go. Council could separate the chapters of the draft plan dealing with strategies and implementation from the land use part of the plan. It then could take the land use part of the plan and make it part of the zoning code, he said.

The draft plan has been discussed before a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and City Council, then went to the Planning Commission, where it was approved with some small changes and sent to City Council.

The draft is now before council's planning and zoning committee, which has scheduled another workshop meeting on the plan for 5:30 p.m. today.

Depending on the committee's recommendation, council could adopt the plan at its Aug. 19 meeting.

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