22 August 2008

Good idea turns bad

Bureaucracy seems so often to be a burden to creative and well-intentioned planning. The institutional controls of public hearings often force awkward compromises, lengthy processes, and seemingly unrelated conditions onto elegant proposals and potentially unique projects.

So, how can you get around these limitations that zoning and public policy impose? You could create a private setting with private rules and private roads where there is not public property and more of the control lies with a private organization like the developer or a homeowners organization. But then, who do you go to when you want to oppose a change? Do you have any say in the matter at all?

That is at the heart of a planning dispute described in the Home News and Tribune. Jack Morris is proposing a commercial development next to a higher density residential area where the residents are worried about the increased traffic. But, one of the problems is that since their road is private, Edison Township doesn't have the usual control over whether Morris' project, Beechwood Plaza, can connect to that road. They all signed up for a multi-use project, but didn't realize that this is how it would turn out. Here is the Home News quote:

Residents were told by township attorney Jeff Lehrer at the Council meeting that, as a matter of law, this is a private community and there is not much the Council can do other than write a letter to the Planning Board.

Lehrer said this is an internal configuration approved by the Planning Board in conjunction with the site plan approval. "If this were a public roadway, it would be a different issue," he said.

For a planning story, this one has some great elements. The photo has many many neighbors all posing together standing in the street - it stands out compared to most planning stories which lack good visuals and it shows that they present a unified front (unlike other stories where the opposition turns out to be one or two cranks). The fact that they knew it would be a multi-use project is interesting. Is it like suburbanites who buy into rural sub-divisions but then fight to prevent other rural subdivisions? Or did they not look at the plans before they bought? Is the developer forced into this situation against his will (did he sign on to an existing site plan)? Is he fighting the change?

Private roads are on the rise and make for an interesting twist to planning problems.

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