• Liz

Comprehensive Plan Letter, November 18, 2019

Fellow Meridian residents - I just sent in my comments to our draft comprehensive plan, copied for you here below.  The comprehensive plan is going to be one of the most important guides to our development as a city going forward. If you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to take the time to read the plan here and provide your comments.  
https://www.meridiancompplan.com/
There is a public meeting Tuesday, November 19th at City Council at 6:00 pm. Whether in person or via e-mail please make sure your voice is heard. 

From: Elizabeth Strader

To:      Meridian City Council, Mayor de Weerd, City Clerk

Re:      Draft Comprehensive Plan


Madam Mayor, City Council Members:

As an engaged citizen, and a candidate for public office, I’ve recently had the opportunity to interact with thousands of our fellow Meridian residents.  I hope that sharing some of my feedback on our comprehensive plan might be of some value as you gather input at this time in the process.  I would like to recognize and commend our staff and the steering committee for the tremendous work that has already been done. 

Meridian is special for so many reasons.  Our sense of place is rooted in an agricultural past, and the open space that came with it.  Fellow residents remember a time when there were vast fields and you could look around and see the horizon in all directions.  While they understand that growth is already here, they want to preserve part of that past that can be our unique advantage as we look to the future. 

We have a broad philosophical choice to make in our comprehensive plan regarding the development pattern that we want to embrace.  To me, that means simultaneously addressing our shortage of more affordable housing by very thoughtful planning for a denser population centralized in downtown Meridian, keeping the density along the transportation corridors where it is planned and already exists, and at the same time balancing that development by preserving areas of open space and rural space further from the center of the city. 

The visioning piece of the comprehensive plan was executed with a huge amount of citizen engagement, but I think some additional work remains within the plan itself to link the FLUM and our plans back to how they demonstrate and realize the residents’ vision.  In my opinion, the comprehensive plan is on track, but there are a few changes that can be considered now and later during implementation to better address the concerns of fellow residents:


Identify and Designate High Value Agricultural / Rural Areas & Conservation Areas

If something is of great value to us, then we need to name it.

If agriculture, open space / rural space, and preserving sensitive areas of Meridian with unique environmental features or considerations for our agricultural heritage reflects an important part of our values in Meridian, then the first logical step is to revise the comprehensive plan to identify those areas with their own designations in the FLUM. 

It is apparent to me from the huge amount of citizen interaction on this plan and in engaging with residents that we need an agricultural / rural designation in our FLUM and should consider if we need certain environmental designations to align with 2019 environmental plan and anticipated future plans to address the needs and concerns of residents.  Residents are concerned with preserving open space, having sufficient transition of density from large lots and multiple acre lots to medium density residential housing, and ensuring they have a high-quality living environment.

In addition, one thing that I heard from voters over and over was that they are concerned with traffic, school overcrowding, and affordability.  Spreading a large population of future residents over the area will only exacerbate our challenges while centralizing a larger population of people downtown will help make transit and other scalable solutions feasible.  

I would like to take a little bit of a risk here, but give some examples of how I hope we will be able to link the visioning / values part of the document with our plans:

Meridian values it’s agricultural heritage and all Meridian residents should have access to abundant open space.  That is reflected in the FLUM where we created a rural land use with the designated areas that are expected to remain less densely populated.  In the future, the steering committee recommends considering ways to preserve rural agricultural space such as the creation of a public / private partnership to implement conservation easements or the designation of agricultural parks.  Plan implementation should also consider increasing our open space and other requirements for residential development. 

Linking these types of concrete steps forward with the visioning exercise is essential.   

In 20 years, it would be amazing for kids growing up in Meridian and even those who live in dense housing to be able to take field trips to one of the working farms that operates under a conservation easement in partnership with the city, for children to have access to rural areas to participate in 4H, and for the the air, sunshine, and access to natural settings to enhance the learning, development and enjoyment of all residents.     

I’ll give one more example of how we could link our visioning statement to the plan:

Meridian values it’s environmental stewardship, so the plan implementation includes the designation of environmentally sensitive and unique areas.  Furthermore, we are encouraging the protection and enhancement of our waterways and irrigation canals, and the plan designates the potential locations of future additional parks, pathways, and public works facilities such as composting for residents. The plan also reflects public health concerns including access to clean water, clean air, the implementation of good waste management practices and abundant access to fresh food particularly in our developing urban core.

It is important to note, City planning staff has voiced a number of legitimate concerns that need to be addressed including the economics of providing city services to less populated areas, and in the absence of those services the challenge of rural properties being annexed into other surrounding cities.  On that front, I believe we need to name the things that matter to us, and then work in earnest on solutions under the new Mayor and City Council next year.  We are not the first city to tackle this challenge, let’s name what matters to us most and work on solutions.  


Future Job Centers

In our plan, the possible industrial land uses in particular are less defined, leaving concerns for neighboring residents.  We could touch on the work that’s been done by the community development department to identify new and advantageous industries that are ideal for Meridian to embrace and those locations that are best suited to them, and point out the heavy industrial uses that are not appropriate for bordering a residential area.  Then we can further develop this during the implementation phase.

One interesting example would be for Meridian to encourage the creation of a high-tech farming zone.  High tech and precision farming utilizing various new technologies could leverage our unique background, central location near a rail and transportation corridor, and expertise.  It would also have potential synergy with local colleges and other educational and professional programs and better co-locate with surrounding properties.  There may be additional high tech or future industry uses that are particularly attractive to Meridian and that we can compete on to bring in family wage jobs.  I would encourage us to describe high potential industries that Meridian is suited for within the plan and the land uses that could support those within the plan.


Ensure the Plan is Comprehensive:  Include Downtown Meridian & 10 Mile within the Plan

The other side of preserving our open space is pro-actively picking the areas where we do want to develop denser housing and including plans for a vibrant and walkable downtown.  For residents to buy in to the development of downtown and understand the tremendous amount of work that has already taken place on the infrastructure and setting the stage for that, it would help if they could see the future of downtown Meridian here within the comprehensive plan instead of it being referenced elsewhere. 

Residents understand we have a tremendous need for additional and more affordable housing on our hands, and if we want to address that in the most efficient way possible with scalable solutions to handle it, including transportation that would involve additional housing stock downtown.  We can work in partnership with the school system and other stakeholders to plan for more of that in this document along with the pathways, gathering spaces, parks, and walkable retail needed to support a larger downtown population.  Further, residents seeing the vision of a destination downtown with enhanced retail, shopping, and employment will link back to the visioning.  I believe instead of referencing additional plans in separate documents, the downtown plan and 10 Mile should be included within our comprehensive plan, and that during comprehensive plan implementation we can consider new tools like new urbanist design principles to best integrate a mix of services and uses with a larger population. 


Plan Approval & Implementation

The comprehensive plan to date, is the result of a tremendous amount of work by stakeholders, city planning staff, and our residents.  I have personally witnessed the planners go above and beyond in engaging with our residents even after regular business hours, and it is a tremendous amount of work.  Unfortunately, the nature of these types of plans is that folks often don’t realize how these changes will impact them until they pay attention to what is happening in their back yards.  Now that we are close to adoption, we will likely be getting some of the best quality feedback.

I have confidence that our Council and Mayor DeWeerd will ensure that they take the appropriate time and consideration move forward on the comprehensive plan adoption and encourage you to first consider appropriate enhancements to the plan.  I look forward to working together with the rest of the incoming Council and future Mayor Simison to ensure a seamless transition no matter what phase we end the year on. 

I also look forward to the hard work ahead of implementing the plan, updating our development code, particularly of our opportunities to streamline and improve our development application process, helping our new future Mayor realize some of his exciting plans for the city, and helping move us closer to our vision.

Thank you,

Liz 

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