Planning board punts until after election

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The current Littleton City Council will not get the chance to vote on an updated comprehensive plan, because the planning board that wrote it has again delayed its recommendation.

“I think we’re 90 percent there,” said board member Karina Elrod. “But I would support having just a little more time to address the final details.”

The meeting Oct. 28 was basically a repeat of the one on Oct. 14, when the board heard from several citizens who don’t like the updates. Board members decided to hold another study session and public hearing before sending the plan on to council for final consideration, which was supposed to happen on Election Day, Nov. 5.

Now that the board has decided to have yet another study session on Nov. 4 and a hearing on Nov. 25, the fate of the document lies in the hands of the new council. It will also appoint planning-board members, who have to reapply at the end of their terms.

“We do this at the risk of the new council not agreeing with us, which I don’t think will happen,” said board member Andrew Graham. “But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

The plan, written in 1981, has been stuck since 2005 between those who think it should be an action plan and those who see it as a guiding vision. Required by state law, it guides the evolution of the city and is supposed to reflect the residents’ desires. It tends to emphasize things like community character over specifics like lighting and height requirements, which are dealt with in zoning laws.

The section currently being revised only addresses the citywide vision, not the neighborhood plans, which include more detail. Those are being left alone until after the areas around the two light-rail stations are addressed, because the city has federal grant money to study those first.

“This document is not a comprehensive plan,” said board member Mark Rudnicki. “This document is a preamble or a prologue to the comprehensive plan. … This is preposterous. We need a new comprehensive plan. We need to get on with the preamble and move on to the next steps.”

Most citizens who don’t like the updates say they’d like more specifics, and that the plan’s ambiguity allows too much room for interpretation.

“What I see in the chain of command is that the staff is running things,” said Jerry Hill. “If I worked on the staff, I’d like to have this reduced down to where I had no guidelines at all.”

But the board seems more concerned with details like grammar and definitions, saying neighborhood plans will be much more specific and include lots of input from the people who live in them.

“Overall, I’m very proud of this document,” said Graham. “But I also don’t like turning my paper in until I’m pretty darn sure I’m ready to turn in my paper. I don’t want to make fundamental changes. … There are words in here that I’m absolutely in love with because of their ambiguity.”

The board’s decision avoids a repeat of Election Day 2011, when council was set to consider the downtown plan. Things got testy between members of the two entities when council tried to make a lot of changes, but ultimately the draft went back to the planning board. It was finally approved by the current council after a few tweaks.

The current draft is on the city’s website, www.littletongov.org.

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