The St. Charles Comprehensive Plan Task Force on Wednesday night pressed on with final revisions of a draft plan that will be the subject of an open house in two weeks, followed by a final meeting in December before the proposal would be passed to the Plan Commission.
Like everyone else, task force members are headed into the holidays — but they also are entering into the home stretch of their efforts. Once they pass the draft plan along with their recommendation to the St. Charles Plan Commission, their work will be complete, Task Force Chairman Mark Armstrong said before the start of Wednesday’s meeting.
When the Plan Commission accepts the baton, the draft plan moves to the next stage of the approval process that ultimately would end before the City Council.
In the meantime, however, the task force continues to refine a draft plan that has been months in the making and around which there has been no shortage of tension — and rightly so. The plan is intended as a sort of blueprint to guide development within the city for the next two decades, and much is at stake. As a comprehensive plan, it touches all areas of the community, from the West Gateway through the downtown to the East Gateway, and all kinds of development — from commercial to residential to industrial.
Through its months of work, the task force and Houseal Lavigne Associates, the consultants the city hired to assemble the draft plan, have been taking input from all interested parties and the myriad aspects of what is being considered and trying to assimilate it fairly into one thorough document.
Sorting and weighing that input has been a sensitive issue. As in any political process, some groups have emerged as very vocal and have shown up in number as drafting of the plan has unfolded. Much of the more vocal concerns have been in opposition to the development in the West Gateway area of multifamily housing — a planning term that includes apartment buildings.
Still, the task force also must consider those who have been less publicly vocal but no less ardent about their views.
That dilemma was apparent Wednesday when consultant Devin Lavigne defended a part of the plan with a word choice characterizing the extent of the opposition to the development of apartments. He said that during the public comment process, which included written comments, emails, and private interviews, there were repeated indications that the opponents of multifamily housing might not represent a true cross-section of the community. He included that in the report, he said, because it adds transparency to the process.
Ultimately, however, that part of the draft may not be a part of the final revision that is passed on to the Plan Commission.
Even so, that part of th evening's discussion illustrates the difficulty the task force faces in a process that assures those who perceive the greatest threat — or the greatest opportunity — have a vested interest in making their voices heard and heard well throughout the process.
The task force’s work, particularly at his point, as it pores over the 125-page draft document, is largely mundane: Checking for spelling errors, words that should be changed, the consistent use of various terms throughout the document. Task force members even are concerned about accurately reflecting the businesses mentioned by name in the plan. For example, task force members asked the consultants Wednesday night to update a reference to Chord on Blues, which closed and reopened as River Rockhouse. Harris Bank also underwent a name change after the comprehensive plan process began.
Still, the task force finds itself in a process that remains a balancing act — respecting and expressing the sometimes conflicting views that have been pushed forward through the process. Even subtle word choices in some parts of the draft plan can fall under suspicion if one interest group feels its views somehow are given less weight by the words used to describe them.
The task force has two more meetings scheduled on the draft comprehensive plan. The first is an open house from 6 yo 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in the City Council Chambers on the second floor of the St. Charles Municipal Center.
The second is a formal task force meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, also in the City Council Chambers. At that meeting, the task force likely will decide whether or not to recommend that the Planning Commission approve the task force’s final draft.
Then a new phase of the process begins.