As part of their contract, the consultants Camiros, hired by the city to develop the UDO, conducted what they referred to as three “workshops” on their UDO draft. I simply assumed that these were meant to educate the community about the document they had created. I had assumed that, like most workshops, we would break up into small groups being led either by the consultants or the city’s Planning staff. I thought they would provide us background materials and work their way through them clarifying any confusion by taking questions.
Instead the consultants did a slide presentation and offered a commentary as they briskly went through their slides. In talking to other participants, I was not the only one who found their presentation overwhelming. The most helpful part of the program was the period they provided for questions. Unfortunately at the session I attended they cut off discussion even though there were obviously people who still had questions. In fact, after the first few questions were about UR-3 issues, they asked that people with these questions wait until others with different issues had a chance. This was not an unreasonable request but when they returned to UR3 there was insufficient time left for those with questions.
As noted in a previous post, it turned out that the consultants’ presentation misrepresented a key issue regarding the reduction of lot sizes in UR-3. I will not go through it again here and instead direct readers to the post titled: UDO: Lots of Things To Chew On But Not Enough Time
So recently, in an attempt to get a better understanding of the information the consultants presented, I went to the city website and went through their slides again. I found that even looking at their slides more carefully , though, they were to me just as confusing as at their presentation.
I am not sure who the presentation and the slides were designed for but they were not designed to educate people like myself.
Putting aside the fact that critical issues like comparing the old and new setback standards that will decide how far apart homes must be from one another were not addressed, the text was often impenetrable. The two consultants were highly skilled professionals and it seems incredible that they would think they had created a presentation that would help the general public grasp the changes they were calling for.
The following is some text from a chart labeled “Residential Districts.” This is the same chart that showed the reduction in lot size minimums for UR-3. Under the heading for UR-3 labeled “Notes/Analysis” they offered the following:
[As a little help, “SF” stands for “single family” and “2F” stands for “two family.”]
SF: 68% conform (versus 47%) lot area 2F: 47% conform (versus 27%) lot area
SF Subdivision: currently 40 lots – new standard 130 lots – total of 90 new lots that could subdivide
In their commentary as almost an aside they alluded to this text as demonstrating how little effect the change in lot size would have.
Myself, I do not understand what this note means. I welcome readers to offer their explanation.
Here is another example:
Nonconforming Site Elements
* Brought into conformance when a principal building is constructed on a site or an existing principal building is increased in building footprint square footage by 50% or more
* Additional exceptions for parking and exterior lighting
I find this language unnecessarily obtuse and at times impenetrable, a major barrier to understanding what is being proposed. Maybe other readers will find it quite accessible and I welcome people’s input. If it turns out that my assessment is not unfair, though, I hope others reading this blog who share these concerns will contact our elected officials.
I do not see the members of the Council as committed to forcing the UDO to be adopted as written. Casual conversations I have had reaffirm my faith that Mayor Kelly and other Council members truly see this as only a draft.
I believe that the source of the problem we face is rooted in the prevalent attitude of planners which is to facilitate the maximum use of a community’s land resources. The consultants are also focused on producing documents like our UDO and have little interest in the very expensive and time consuming project of educating the general citizenry. They seem to have produced a document that may be meaningful to other planners but is not useful for lay people who need to be able to evaluate how the work of these planners will affect their neighborhoods. As a sign of their indifference to helping the public understand their work they have not established a vehicle for citizens to have questions asked and answered now that the public “workshops” are over. Their site only invites comments, not questions.
I am confident that our Mayor and Council want Saratogians to have the time and resources necessary to fully comprehend and weigh in on the very important changes in land use that will guide our community for many years to come. To do this will require materials that are clear and accessible and more time for the community to digest the information and evaluate it.