Communication is Key
By LYNDON GERMAN
Feb 12, 2017, 16:08
HOPEWELL—Last Tuesday night Hopewell’s City Council held an open work session where Chairmen of the Hopewell Planning Commission, Eliot Eliades gave a presentation about communication and the role of the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission, along with the Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Hopewell Downtown Partnership, are responsible for assessing areas for future developers. Their annual compressive plan outlines the best solution for particular areas of interest as well as future developments.
With all that’s going on in the downtown area, the EDA and City Council, Eliades and the Planning Commission requested for more communication between departments.
“Something the planning commission learned while drafting the comprehensive plan is little gaps in communication within departments like the Economic Development Authority, Downtown Partnership and even City Council,” Eliades said.
“When writing the plan we interview citizens and stakeholders. We’d like to try and keep that going but we’d like to start in-house.”
The origin of this issue came while drafting the comprehensive plan. Although the Planning Commission has its own plan it may sometimes differ from the EDA’s plan or the Downtown Partnership’s plan or even City Council’s plan. In other words, as Eliades put, “Sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
Some councilors, like Vice Mayor Jasmine Gore, agreed with Eliades’ claim and have voiced similar concerns many times before.
“Some of us have been asking for something like this to happen because it’s really, really needed,” Gore stated. “Some of us can see the gaps in communication so I’m glad that you guys have tried to get something organized.”
Mayor Jackie Shornak agreed with Gore’s comments and added that everyone is headed towards the same goal of improving Hopewell, but trying to get there in different ways.
“We need to get together and make sure all our thoughts are the same.” Mayor Shornak added.
According to Eliades some of the communication gaps are being mended. He referred to the Planning Commission and the EDA meeting held earlier in the week in which they addressed their goals together.
Councilors Brenda Pelham, Janice Denton, Anthony Zevgolis and both the City Manager and Assistant City Manager have sat in on either an EDA meeting or Planning Commission meeting. Even Evan Kaufman, director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, has sat in on meetings.
“We’ve already started making progress and it’s not a big stretch,” Eliades continued. “We’re not saying anything too crazy or not doable because it’s being done. Working on some way to get every group to commit to sending one member of each group to a meeting.”
With regular attendance from city council, not only will the communication improve but also the official proceedings. Eliades has also spoken with City Attorney Stefan Calos on how to conduct closed meetings with council to better address council’s needs.
Eliades anticipates that not all groups will be on the same page at first but that idea of civil disagreement and joint solutions will be extremely helpful going forward in drafting the comprehensive plan.
Eliades also offered requests regarding how to assess potential developments by using a small area study plan, the future role of the planning commission and the comprehensive plan.
According Eliades a resolution passed by council on Aug. 23 ask for council’s support in using small area studies to determine the best possible development for any particular plot of land. Eliades feels that if council is undecided with what to do with any particular property they should reference either a small area study or the comprehensive plan to make a decision.
Small area studies do often take some time to accomplish, three to five months, in fact, according to Tevya Griffin director of Neighborhood Assistance & Planning and member of the planning commission. It also requires the city to hire a group to conduct the study which can cost $25,000 to $30,000, also according to Griffin. Which is why sometimes it is better to refer to the comprehensive plan.
The comprehensive plan essentially sets the theme of how any one property will be developed or the vision of what the planning commission feels would be the best fit for said property. As Eliades stated, the comprehensive plan helps decide what is the best use for these properties, but doesn’t dictate the final decision.
As Assistant City Manager Charles Dane said, one thing that the comprehensive plan aides in is the zoning of particular areas, but not the final development.
“One thing we need to keep in mind, I think, we get twisted around the axel about sometimes, is what is shown on a particular piece of land, but ultimately the “comp” plan [also known as the comprehensive plan] creates a zoning for that piece of land.”
A lot of times City Council is presented with a rendering of a potential project, much like the Humanities Foundation housing project that council deliberated on in January. What Dane is referring to is that just because the rendering says one thing the zoning of the land ultimately decides what can or cannot go there.
Eliades requests couldn’t have come at a better time as areas of interest, or what chairmen Eliades referred to as “cherry spots,” are getting more and more buzz from potential developers, so much so that Eliades claims people are calling Hopewell to settle with instead of the other way around.
Councilor Zevgolis remains focused on planning commission goals and improved communications.