Planners split on hearing date

Published 12:04 am Saturday, November 22, 2014

The only non-unanimous vote in Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting seemed like a relatively simple matter — scheduling a public hearing on the city’s draft 2035 Comprehensive Plan.

But the commissioners split 5-3, with those who voted against it feeling that the Dec. 16 public hearing won’t give enough time for citizens to review the document, which was made public earlier this month, before commenting on it.

Even commissioner Jim Vacalis, a former city manager, said he’s still wading through the 205-page document.

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“I’m just not, I guess, ready as a planning commissioner to have a public hearing so soon,” he said. “It’s really long. I’m trying to make myself as knowledgeable about what this document says.”

Commissioner William Goodman agreed.

“For us to do a good job, we should deliberate a little bit longer when it comes to stuff like this,” he said.

Commissioner Johnnie Edwards joined the two in voting against the December hearing.

Revealed on Nov. 5 at a joint work session of the Planning Commission and City Council, the plan is the third iteration of the comprehensive plan, following plans that were initially adopted in 1998 and 2006. The state now requires comprehensive plans to be reviewed every five years, and the current planning phase began in 2011.

The exhaustive document covers everything from the city’s development principles and values to residential densities, village initiatives, transportation improvements, public services including schools and public safety, natural and historic resources and more.

The draft plan calls for maintaining the city’s growth boundaries in their current locations, with only three minor adjustments; increasing residential densities to allow for more growth; maintaining the character of the city’s rural areas; performing about $980 million in transportation improvements, including replacing the Kings Highway Bridge at a cost of about $90 million; maintaining efforts to secure a passenger rail and high-speed rail stop in the city; building more fire stations and adding fire/medical personnel to reduce response times; hiring more police officers to respond to increasing demands; building additional public schools to serve a growing student body; and many more items.

Planning Director Scott Mills said the draft plan is currently the Planning Commission’s document, so the commission does not have to take a vote immediately after its Dec. 16 public hearing.

Commissioner Arthur Singleton agreed.

“We need to have the public hearing to have public input,” Singleton said, also noting the decision does not have to be made that day. “I’m sure the public is raring to come in and tell us what they think of it.”

Once the Planning Commission approves the document, it will be sent to City Council.

Citizens can view the draft plan by downloading it from or visiting a city library or the East Suffolk Recreation Center.