New Planning Bills Same Old Stuff

May 21, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Three House bills designed to define and promote Smart Growth in the state are seen as lacking the right stuff to do either by the Grand Valley Metro Council.

“These don’t go as far as we’d like,” said Bill Hardiman, Kentwood mayor and chair of the GVMC Legislative Committee. “But I don’t think these hurt us.”

The trio — 5267, 5038 and 5252 — were passed in the House as a revision for the failed Coordinated Planning Act. One sets standards for cities and villages, another for townships and a third for counties, but none apply to the regional planning statute.

Metro Council Planning Director Andy Bowman said planning across the state could be conducted if the three are passed by the Senate. But he fears that the same mistakes could be made again because the bills miss the target by not calling for a coordinated effort.

“They’re not fulfilling the original goal for carrying on the Smart Growth tradition,” said Bowman. “The Coordinated Planning Act was to help us get to a new awareness of planning. They’re not doing that. They’re not ushering in a new era.”

In fact, the bills are considered to be so far off target that Bowman and members of the Legislative Committee listed 10 things that are wrong with the proposals:

  • Planning procedures aren’t changed much and coordination isn’t promoted.

  • Public involvement, outside of the final public hearing, isn’t included.

  • The “plan” as a product isn’t defined and doesn’t contain a desired outcome.

  • No provisions are made for the training and qualifications of planning commissioners.

  • There is no system to promote governmental cooperation beyond mutual notices.

  • There are no new links between planning and infrastructure beyond what exists.

  • There are no new procedures for plats, land divisions or condominium developments.

  • There’s no role for the state to play in the process, including funding.

  • There is no help for local jurisdictions, such as impact fee and mapping.

  • The proposals do not address regional planning.

Bowman said the bills were more like zoning laws, rather than a uniform guide to land use and planning for the state. Still, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Township Association reportedly supported the bills, which were to have been voted on in the Senate before lawmakers left for the holiday.

But Allendale Township Supervisor Jim Beelen said that Ottawa County officials raised a concern that the bills created an unfunded mandate, and they contacted their counterparts at Kent County. Both counties then alerted State Sen. Ken Sikkema, R-Grandville, of the bills’ cost to local units, and the legislation was being reviewed in the Senate.

Grand Rapids City Manager Kurt Kimball reminded members that state lawmakers have a history of watering down potential planning legislation once bills are introduced, and said that they shouldn’t back the latest offerings.

“They’re missing the mark, it seems, with any significant changes. So why should we support it?” he asked.

Hardiman said the Legislative Committee would take another look at the trio and possibly offer Lansing their opinion.

“Perhaps, we’ll give our input,” he said, “but not take a position on it.”

As for the controversial Coordinated Planning Act, which combined four bills into one, Bowman felt its downfall was due to its size, more than anything.

“That legislation probably died from the weight of the legislation itself,” he said. “In fact, the Michigan Legislature doesn’t do well with large bills like that.”           

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