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Tue, Sept. 17

Committee weighs conflicting values of community for city's general plan

PRESCOTT – A major task for the Prescott General Plan Committee has been balancing the various values of the community – even if those values sometimes conflict with one another.

For example: While many local residents agree that Prescott needs more affordable housing, they also like the idea of lots that are two acres or larger. The two objectives are not necessarily compatible.

The members of the general plan committee and about 120 local residents mulled over those and a host of other issues at a series of open-house meetings that took place last week.

The 12-member Prescott General Plan Committee has been working since September 2001 to come up with a state-mandated plan that will incorporate categories already in the existing plan with a number of new elements, such as environmental planning, growth area and the cost of development, and community quality.

The series of meetings kicked off this past Tuesday with a meeting at the Prescott Public Library. About 60 people turned out and milled around the third-floor meeting room to look at the eight displays that dealt with the various elements of the draft general plan. Two more meetings came later in the week, which attracted about 30 people each.

Elisabeth Ruffner, co-chair of the committee, pointed out that the people who attended the meetings had plenty of comments about the draft plan. Indeed, the gatherings produced about 300 written responses from the participants.

And although the comments covered many issues, Ruffner said a large number of them dealt with the plan's goal to achieve "housing for a balanced community."

Prescott has used the same words in each of its past two general plans (1990 and 1997), Ruffner said, but the plans have never included specifics for how to achieve the goal. The new plan, which the city hopes to take to the voters in spring 2003, likely will include more details, Ruffner said.

She allowed, however, that the goal of encouraging more affordable housing bumps up against another long-held Prescott value – large home lots.

"There is a real dichotomy – that yes, we need to be able to house the people who work in the service industry," Ruffner said, "but others say they like two-acre lots."

Because of the value of the land, Ruffner said, "it is hard to imagine" homes on such lots fitting the "affordable" criteria.

Ruffner said the committee had public participation in mind when it planned last week's meetings. Purposely, the agenda included no opening statement or formal presentation to the crowd. Rather, the committee asked the public to study the displays and maps at each of the eight stations.

A committee member was on hand to answer questions about each of the elements and explain the planning process.

"It was an interactive process," Ruffner of the open-house meetings. After receiving a brief explanation at the door, she said, "everybody fell into that public participation process very well."

Along with verbal questions-and-answers at the meeting, participants also received surveys and forms, which asked for written comments on the progress of the general plan so far. A number of the participants also took copies of the draft plan home with them to study and possibly submit additional written comments.

In the coming weeks, the committee will work to incorporate those comments into the draft general plan. The next committee meeting will take place on Sept. 5, with another on Sept. 19. The group will also meet twice in October, and at least once in November and December.

Before last week's meetings began, City Long-Range Planner George Worley estimated that the plan was at the two-thirds mark. Ruffner and Worley both say that the committee has plenty of work left to do.

"We're still doing a fair amount of revising and reviewing," said Ruffner, who stressed that the current document is still in a draft form.

After the committee works on the general plan next month, the document will go to the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission. The next stop is the Prescott City Council, which could have the plan by November.

The schedule calls for the council to adopt the plan before the end of December, which would set the stage to have the general plan on the ballot for a vote of the public in March 2003. The state's Growing Smarter legislation set out the terms and schedule for cities and towns to have an updated general plan in effect. The Prescott General Plan Committee has been building on the plan that the city adopted in 1997.

Ruffner emphasizes that the City Council has repeatedly opted to have a citizens' committee work on its general plans, rather than hire a consultant to oversee the job. She said that helps to ensure that the general plan reflects the wishes of the community.

The general plan committee consists of: Ruffner and co-chair Robert Behnke, John Steward, Barton Brown, Lindsay Bell, Paul Daly, Roy Griffin, Ed Harris, Sue Knaup, Edna Moglewar, Richard Rosa, and Jim Lamerson.

Contact Cindy Barks at cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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