Planning Board on Cable — Pleasant Surprise

Written By: Warren Gross

While one swallow does not a summer make, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of thinking I saw last night from this group on Channel 75.

Yes, there are problems endemic in groups of these sorts on lack of focus, wandering, and surely there are issues concerning the roles, responsibilities and relationships among City Administration, Planning, Zoning Boards, community groups, and mostly, City Council.

But, the Planning Board is very well led; I believe his name is Douglas Hocking and he is very smart, focused, and a gentleman.

You want to scream at some matters and say, get on with it and stick to the earlier agreements and enforce these. For example, on the automobile dealership parking, noise, and related issues, the speakers area was like a frenetic fire drill; a dealer head here, a totally unprepared lawyer there, etc…. and the Planning Board and city representatives were going back and forth covering the same ground. One example, was the striping used to clearly segment and identify parking areas and the roundabout on the discussion was, frankly, sad. But Mr Hocking let it go as far as he thought it needed to go repetition or not. I would have likely said to the dealership “did you comply on the striping” No? Well do so! YOu say that you cannot do that based on some internal warranty on the garage decking and to do so, would cost more? Sorry, eat the cost, not our problem!

But that is me. When the time came when Hocking felt comfortable he and his colleagues were decisive on marking areas, noise abatement solutions and street parking. I saw no ambiguity at the end.

Then came Iona and I still wonder at the recent announcment in the press where Iona congratulated the City and the planning committee (citizens plus university, not Planning Board) on working together and so forth.

I would have too because the decision lacked a critical ingredient and the Planning Board was wise to it on immediately. A five year extension approved by Council by a 7 to 0 vote makes so sense without a commitment to deliver an Iona Master Plan. The Planning Board, led by Hocking was all over this. After some checking for understanding on precisely what was involved here in the way of locations…. note that Mayflower will not proceed in any fashion during this extension period…. the Planning Board voted unaminously to inform the Council and the Mayor that they wanted a Master Plan during one years’ time if they would give their approval for the extension.

The Council needs to do some critical thinking. First, the over-occupancy was handled badly whether a risk or not. The auto dealership also played fast and loose by parking over the agreed upon limit. It tells me not only of a lack of follow up control and monitoring but enforcement and we really got that message loud and clear on the Di Napoli Report regarding our IDA process. It is a long, too long neglected legacy in our City Government and I think either smarter organizations know and take advantage of this (likely Monroe as well) or checkbook diplomacy rears its head.

I don’t think this would happen with people of Hocking’s and some of his colleagues experience and wisdom. I applaud what I saw and heard based on limited experienced and I want to be perfectly clear to an overworked and underloved City Council… take the time to critical think of risk and consequence. QUESTION EVERYTHING… or if you prefer follow Mark Twains’ advice and that is “trust everybody but cut the cards?’

Frankly, the staff member representing the Council and delivering their request was once again, ill informed and tried to inform the Planning Board as to what was in their prerogative on this matter and she was quickly stopped in her tracks by Hocking. This same person made some critical errors on interpreting whether discussions around the SWOT areas in the focus groups on EnviroNR could include IDA or BID. She imperiously and incorrectly said NO, it is not part of the land use purpose of the Plan and she is, of course, both dead wrong and a poor public relations person for city hall by cutting off dialogue.

Hocking saw through this…. it is on the record, but my purpose mainly is positive here. a good impression on me and one that helped me crystallize my thinking on roles, relationships, and responsibilities, question how the Iona recommendation received such a short-sighted view by the committee and the Council, and thus wonder, why is our governance structure set up for this type of dilemma.

We really need oversight and policy, control and monitoring, and if anything outside of the City Charter mandates, is causing this to happen, remedial action and NOW.