Planners extend comment period on comp plan

Published 10:35 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2014

After hearing two speakers on proposed changes to the city’s comprehensive plan, the Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to extend the public hearing to next month to allow more time for public input.

Commissioner Jim Vacalis, who had initially opposed having the public hearing so soon after the plan’s Nov. 5 unveiling, favored the extension of the public hearing.

“I think it gives us a little more time and the public a little more time to look at the land use plan,” he said.

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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 two speakers during the hearing called for better housing distribution and walkable neighborhoods.

School Board Chairman Michael Debranski asked the commission to “be careful as to how the housing developments are planned and how the density is distributed.” He hopes better planning will help alleviate school overcrowding, he said.

Jean Carmean asked for “walkable” communities with connections among them.

The draft plan calls for maintaining the city’s growth boundaries in their current locations, with only three minor adjustments, and increasing residential densities to allow for more growth within the boundaries.

“There is a need for additional capacity to be developed into this plan document,” Assistant Director of Planning Bob Goumas said.

While the city has plenty of future commercial capacity for its projected growth, the future residential capacity only slightly exceeds projected growth, Goumas said.

Because all available land might not be developed to its full potential, Goumas said, an increase in density is necessary to increase availability.

“Just a word of caution, when we’re talking about higher densities, it means more service demands,” Vacalis said, noting not only schools but also the fire and police departments and others.

Goumas suggested some slight edits to the draft plan, including identifying transportation priorities totaling about $300 million. The draft plan, created by city consultant McBride Dale Clarion, identified about $980 million worth of needed transportation improvements.

The plan also calls for maintaining the character of the city’s rural areas; 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.

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

The commission’s next meeting is Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. at city hall.