By Chicken Little

I once asked a councilman if the city had a general plan and was assured that it had one. That seemed odd because there were never any requests for general plan amendments at planning commission meetings.

It turns out the city does develop comprehensive plans, but these are only advisory. An advisory plan may be useful to city planners in making recommendations on development projects. But to my mind, it’s not an effective tool because it has no authority, and developers don’t have to respect it.

In its draft of a comprehensive plan for the next 20 years, the Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaborative suggests giving the plan the force of law by having the planning commission approve it and the city council adopt it.

On the negative side, it would mean an extra layer of red tape for developers, But it is the policy many other cities follow, including every city in California.

What are the advantages?

If the city grows by a series of rezonings, each one seemingly runimportant, the cumulative result could be unplanned growth. A master or comprehensive plan would include a growth element. It might address concerns Kendig Keast has raised, like promoting infill growth over urban sprawl and directing growth to areas where streets and utilities are already in place. The market drives growth to where costs are cheaper, and this may not be in the city’s best interests.

“Consider strengthening (the comprehensive plan) from an advisory document to require consistency,” the consultant writes in the draft plan. “This would mean that proposed development that is inconsistent with the growth-management or land-use plans would require a plan amendment before rezoning or development is considered.”

Thinking over rezonings more carefully

This change would put more attention on key rezonings, requiring a second public hearing for the plan amendment. It would make rezonings less of a routine thing. The issue is who plans Murfreesboro — the city’s leaders or the development community. If rezonings are granted routinely, developers are doing the planning.

In an offhand remark at a recent council meeting, Mayor McFarland addressed the issue. A  developer himself, McFarland said developers are focused totally on the project before them. That means they aren’t looking at the bigger picture. Looking at a bigger plan  is crucial if the city is to deal wisely with the influx of people coming here in the next 20 years.

In our view, a comprehensive plan with teeth in it is something to rally behind.

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