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COMMENTARY:

How Citizens Were Sidelined in City's Master Planning Process

Misinformation and discrimination prevented timely input from communities.

by Joan Floyd
The public should have been informed that the Master Plan would become enforceable city policy upon approval by the Planning Commission, without any action by the City Council, and that the City Council may not change the Master Plan without the vote of 12 members.
Baltimore City's draft Master Plan was distributed to community associations in February in both hard copy and CD form. It lacked crucial information needed by citizens struggling to review and understand the Master Plan and its impact on their neighborhoods, as evidenced by the comments of attendees at Planning Commission hearings. At the last such hearing, on April first, a revised plan was promised to the public by May 18th, to be followed by an adequate opportunity for public review and comment before Planning Commission adoption.

The recently released revised Master Plan (alternately dated May 22nd or May 25th) does contain some of the missing information. However, the Planning Commission’s efforts to inform the public about the revised Master Plan did little to inform public review and understanding; Planning not only misinformed, but created a discriminatory process, leading to the hasty, pro-forma adoption of the Master Plan on June 15.

Discrimination against citizens reviewing this revised Plan:
  1. "Hard copies" of the 250-page revised Master Plan, although announced as available for review at all Enoch Pratt libraries as of Friday, May 26, were not even printed until Wednesday May 31; citizens had to pay for any pages they copied. Color-coded maps lost their effectiveness when colored in black and white.

  2. A packet sent by Planning to hundreds of community associations was postmarked on June 6th, reaching its recipients just one week before the scheduled June 15 Planning Commission "adoption" hearing. This disadvantaged any volunteer-driven community association that lacked the capacity to deal effectively with important incoming information within an extremely short time frame.

  3. The packet contained a CD of the Revised Plan, along with the address of a website for access to the Revised Plan. This discriminatesdagainst those who do not have ready access to the internet, or a computer to read the CD, or the capacity to print out part or all of the 250-page document. In short, professionals in the housing, real estate and development industries, along with those with access to City Hall, had a distinct advantage over the ordinary citizen in effectively reviewing, understanding and responding to the revised Master Plan.
Misinformation about public input and the adoption and effect of this revised Plan. An introductory letter from Planning Director Otis Rolley contained the following statements: Misinformation about controversial content of this revised Plan. The introductory letter from Planning Director Otis Rolley, a 61-page "executive summary" and a 14-page list of "strategies," all failed to draw attention to significant revisions and additions to the Plan, notably: There can be no doubt that the enormous amount of information contained in the revised Plan, the controversial nature of much of the information as it applies to neighborhoods, and the misinformation about the official approval process, all cried out for a reasonable public review and comment period. That did not happen.

The public should have been informed that the Master Plan would become enforceable city policy upon approval by the Planning Commission, without any action by the City Council, and that the City Council may not change the Master Plan without the vote of 12 members.

The Planning Commission should have provided at least a 30-day period for citizen review and input, beginning no earlier than June 7th (the day community associations began receiving the mailed packets).

After that 30-day period, there should have been at least one public hearing so that the Planning Commission could take testimony from citizens about the proposed Master Plan. Further, all Planning Commission deliberations on the Master Plan should have been announced to the public in advance, and should have taken take place in public.
Joan Floyd, a former newspaper editor, is a community activist based in the Remington area.


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This story was published on June 16, 2006.