The “Mr. Potato Head” General Plan

Last week the Scottsdale Republic published a “My Turn” column by former Scottsdale City Councilman Ned O’Hearn on the General Plan changes we’ll be voting on come March 13. At a City Council meeting last year Ned made one of the best public comments I’ve heard so far about the ‘new and improved’ version, calling it a “Mr. Potato Head plan,” with the obvious inference that the folks who put it together didn’t do a good job of assembling the parts in correct relation to each other.

In looking for a photo of Ned for this post, I ran across an interesting article he wrote a couple of years ago about loss of municipal sales tax dollars due to the decline in auto dealerships.

I don’t understand why the Republic doesn’t publish these My Turn columns, but I asked Ned to send me a copy so I could post it on ScottsdaleTrails:

Ned O'Hearn

My Turn on the General Plan – Ned O’Hearn

If the potato is half baked, put it back in the oven. The same reasoning can be applied to the 2011 version of the Scottsdale General Plan.

This General Plan has been a political hot potato since it emerged from a secret oven over a year ago. Nobody’s quite sure how this plan came into being. City staffers convened a group culled from various boards and commissions, and, dubbing them representatives of the public at large, purportedly baked their thoughts into a completely revised Plan.

It was then served to the public for sampling at hearings. What the public quickly learned was that the taste bud test was more about showcasing the recipe than changing it. It wasn’t until the spud landed with a thud before the City Council in October that any serious changes were made in response to citizen concerns.

This Plan remains significantly flawed; there are few built-in protections to keep Scottsdale special.

General Plans are important. Decisions changing the city as a whole or anyone’s neighborhood are made in the context of what’s envisioned in the Plan. Which raises another fundamental problem – the Plan lacks a cohesive vision.

The authors obviously gave up on creating a clear, coherent vision that an outsider would immediately associate with Scottsdale — a vision that might even deter an itinerant developer with an unsuitable project from crossing the city line. Instead, the Vision Statement, by the City’s own admission, is a patchwork of ideas and images, put together to placate every special interest.

Tourism is treated almost as a side issue. Character Areas are dismissed as non-factors in qualifying a major development project. Incongruent land uses are now lumped together, posing a potential threat to neighborhoods. Critically important words and phrases got deleted under the guise of “streamlining.” Essentially, the closer you look, the worse it gets.

Plan opponents will assuredly be characterized as hitching post huggers, determined to slow the pace of progress, anachronistically intent on thrusting the city back to the days of yesteryear. That’s nonsense. The March vote is a referendum on our definition of progress, the quality of growth, the preservation of character and the furtherance of community ideals. This Plan fails in those critical areas of municipal differentiation.

Scottsdale citizens will have ample time to better understand these concerns, sift through the details, and trust nobody’s opinion but their own by simply voting down this version of the Plan. The State of Arizona has given us until 2015 to revise the 2001 Plan that still serves us well. We have time to do a better job; we just need the will.

This Plan is vague and equivocal, reflective of a community paralyzed by indecision about its future. It fails to adequately recognize, promote, or ensure the longevity of the values that have made Scottsdale a special place in the world. Please send this potato back to the kitchen with the message that “it isn’t done.” Vote “No” on Proposition 430.

Ned O’Hearn is a former City Councilman who holds a Masters Degree in City Planning

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