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It is midway through a rather routine planning board meeting. Until now, you have been considering issues that seem to be of more concern to technicians than to the public. Suddenly, you perk up. Next on the agenda is a presentation from an out-of-town developer, flanked by an articulate architect and well-connected local lawyers.
After a few formalities, they turn on their electronic show and urge you to approve the plans for their proposed development -– today. Wow! The streets never looked as attractive, the kids never happier, the sun never brighter as in their digitally-enhanced pictures. Their spreadsheets, pro formas, and other data also seem overwhelmingly positive.
We all can be susceptible to highly polished presentations; and unless applicants are blatant liars, they and their spokespeople should be expected to present their proposals in the best light. However, planning commissioners must meet the challenge of getting to the facts behind the pretty pictures and beyond the enticing words.
Trust your instincts. The color slides look good but ... there are no trees on the property today and those shown are 20 feet tall. Adding up the square footage of all the condos they expect, this seems to be a more dense development than their figures suggest. What will the project really look like next year or the year after? If their information appears to be incomplete or contrary to your knowledge or experience, speak up, and make sure your questions are answered satisfactorily before you act on the proposal.
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Elaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.