Podcast: Chamber of Commerce President David Ludescher on the Comprehensive Plan

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Northfield Chamber of Commerce President David Ludescher was our in-studio guest this week. David’s words about the development principles (see draft 2 here – PDF) during the open mic portion of the second public meeting on the Northfield Comprehensive Plan a couple of weeks ago (right photo, click to enlarge) caught our attention and so we invited him to argue with us discuss the issues. He recently attached these comments to the public comments portion of the plan’s website (public comments are still being accepted there):

55% of the participants in the Comp Plan meeting stated that the primary objective of the Comp Plan should be directed to Northfield’s “appearance”. I would argue that a Comp Plan directed at maximizing appearances will more closely resemble a townhouse association than the utopia which is imagined. Someone told me last night that she used to belong to a townhouse association that made her take down a birdhouse because it violated the rules established to keep the townhouses looking nice.

I am almost sure that our present downtown was primarily the result of haphazard development, which was quite likely considered an eyesore by many in its own day. The east side homes, considered by many to be the ideal kind of housing development for Northfield, were quite likely, the Mayflower Hill of its day. They were large, monstrous houses compared to the shantys which were the norm. These houses probably ruined the character of Northfield of the time.

Should “appearances” dominate the planning strategy for Northfield? Would we settle for the appearance that our children are learning, instead of requiring educational product as the true test? Would we settle for the doctor making us look good on the outside while our health deteriorated? Would we buy a car that looked good if it didn’t have a working engine? Would we consider the most important quality of our friends that they look good?

We all know that a Comp Plan designed on appearances, and for appearance’s sake will ultimately fail to achieve anything but appearances.

I say that we need to strive for more lasting, and intrinsically valuable goals for the future of our town. Let’s take a serious and honest look at what Northfield needs to do in the coming decades to continue to be a self-sustaining community. Granted, people will be attracted to Northfield if it looks wonderful, has great public amenities, and offers a small town character. But, it will not be a diverse cross-section of people. It will be people who want to belong to a very large townhouse association in which the price of admission is high taxes and excessive regulation. — David Ludescher

Click play to listen. 34 minutes. (Corrected audio as of 1:45 PM)

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132 thoughts on “Podcast: Chamber of Commerce President David Ludescher on the Comprehensive Plan”

  1. Victor, I think you said the same thing I did, but were a lot windier about it. Let me see if I can summa-rize your point accurately: The existing comp plan (2000) principles were developed with a terrific public input process that was much more extensive that what we’re doing now.

    My answer: Correct. We don’t have to re-invent this comp plan wheel, just confirm that it’s still an accurate reflection of the community before proceeding with what really needs to be redone (the ordinances). Although I don’t disagree with your assessment of ways things went awry after the last plan, I don’t think it’s terribly relevant now, because I’m convinced that it was our crappy, regressive, outdated, pieced-together-with-duct-tape-and-baling-wire land development regs that were REALLY the problem. Possibly the evil trolls who controlled things last time could have made a mess out of really good ordinances too, but I suspect they (and the damage) could have been a lot more constrained if our regs and maps were consistent with what the comp plan indicated.

    So maybe we disagree about what the “real” problem was last time, but I think we agree that

    1) The last comp plan was the product of a really good process and doesn’t need an overhaul

    and I hope we agree that

    2) Our existing land developent regulations (ordinances) are really bad and DO need an overhaul.

  2. I was not aware that the Planning Commission decided to revisit the Principles at the 6/26 meeting.

    The invitation is accepted. Modified principles will be into staff by 6/21 per your request. We would further request an opportunity to speak Principles. Can we get on the agenda?

  3. I lied – cause here I go. No we don’t agree. maybe as to the hoped for outcome – but not about the process –

    You said:

    1) The last comp plan was the product of a really good process and doesn’t need an overhaul

    but earlier you said

    We don’t have to re-invent this comp plan wheel, just confirm that it’s still an accurate reflection of the community before proceeding with what really needs to be redone (the ordinances).

    It’s the so called confirmation that it still is an accurate reflection of the community…. etc.

    That subjects the value and principles to reassessment. I believe that if the detractors of the process toward an ongoing PLAN see weaknesses in the CP, then they should be at the open mic and the editorial page and lobbying their CtyCouncil person for change. Since the only change you want is Detailed measures that fit the Principles… why have we been subjected to all this…

    Anne and David likely would never have even looked at the principles if the first public meeting didn’t lead them down that track… Was David at the first one? Was Anne at either?

    I don’t think so – but they sure have been hauling fuel about the community’s values.

    Background:

    In 1997 or ’98, as a candidate for City Council, David spoke against the Liveable Communities Initiative… saying “I’ve read that document and it should be trashed. At least he’s consistent. Even though he lost the election (so did I… I’m very consistent!) he was appointed to fill a vacancy by a less than progressive Council and that Council set aside the LCI as even a guiding policy. For decades our leadership has consistently failed to ever make policy out of progressive concepts… always (almost always – never say never) they vote to accept the concept but stop short of activating it. Thus the opening for a City Administrator and a bevy of consultants to turn the town into Apple Valley

    Am I a fan? Nooooooooo.

    But you are right……

    “we agree that

    1) The last comp plan was the product of a really good process and doesn’t need an overhaul

    and we agree…

    2) Our existing land development regulations (ordinances) are really bad and DO need an overhaul.

    3) I never really thought I could shut you up – an in-fact don’t want too… just enjoy the banter!

  4. You know I think Victor allowed me a really good entry back into the conversation……again.

    He mentioned the word credibility. That really is an interesting word when we think about it. It denotes that a person has both objective and subjective ability to comment on a given issue. With the ability of allowing the information to be accepted and believable from both sides.

    David should understand the words subjective and objective very well. The law uses these words with regards to the subjective and objective mind as various tests applied by the Courts.

    So what are the traits of a credible person? It is having the expertise from either a technical understanding on an issue or from an expertise level, that is, from actually living it. This obviously is the objective component of being credible.

    What about the subjective quality associated to the opinion? Would we trust someones opinion if they said “in my personal opinion I believe….”. Well yes, under the credible definition we would, because we know that person also has the experience to back up their personal beliefs. The credible persons beliefs are trusted as being of high quality. Who is the person that does the trusting, it’s the person receiving the information.

    It’s the same with decision makers such as the Planning Commission and City Council. What makes a decision credible in the eyes of the staff, ordinary citizen, business person? Rather than cynical. Are the Planning Commission and City Council members credible in the eyes of public opinion. Remember there are both subjective and objective tests to this trait.

    How would the Planning Commission’s credibility be damaged if they didn’t follow the comp plan or the ordinance and in who eye’s would this matter. In my opinion, that what we are really debating here. There are both ethical and integrity issues rooted in this discussion that drive the debate. So when a person says “I can not trust you”, are really saying your credibility is low with me because Case 1) I do not know if what you say is true or Case 2) If I did believe you, how do I know you will do what you say.

    On more than one occasion, decision makers have failed to follow the comp plan as it stands now, it its present form. Will the existing process correct the problem. Possibly not. Not because I do not believe in the principles of planning, Case 1) above, but because of Case 2) above.

    So thank you Victor. I do believe you, I am credible pro.

  5. If someone, perhaps Credible Pro, could explain the last post. What is the connection with the Comp Plan?

  6. With reference to the question in 105,which refers back to the relevance of comment 104 by the credible pro; the credible pro was there at the time that the highway ords were re-written.

    Tracy:if you read the “old” highway ords,they WERE absolutely in synch with the 2000 comp plan; they did NOT allow small-bay development on the highway.

    It was only after the initial small bay development was on the ground,that the ords had to be re-written,by DSU, to make them “whole/legal”.

    I swear it’s true!!!!!

  7. Victor
    You are absolutely correct. The development was “allowed” by the PC and CC despite the conflict with the ORDs!! and the Comp Plan.!!

    THEN, the ORDs were amended to reflect the development by the consultants.

    ……….we can’t have any non-conforming developments running around out there, especially if they were just newly built……

    Perhaps, we could hear from some PC and CC members who were involved in those decisions to explain why they supported or did not support these developments. It would make a great learning experience for current PC and CC members and help them correct some of the ‘credibility’ issues associated with the decision making process.

  8. I remember being on the City Council when Target was considering coming to Northfield.

    The City Council directed the Planning Commission to come up with revisions to the Comp Plan which took into consideration the possibility of the Target. We (the CC) were told that it would take up to 18 months. We considered that to be a stall tactic, and directed them again to fulfill their role to the Council.

    When they came back a second time and refused to make the modifications, we decided to do it ourselves by creating a special district. It was far from the best solution. Then again, the CC didn’t have the time to do the job to which we directed the PC.

    If I recall correctly, about the same time, the matter went to a referendum, which eventually passed. Once again, if I recall correctly, the Planning Commission decided that we needed a Comp Plan. I think that this was the impetus for the 2000 Plan.

    We might be too far down the line, but it might be worthwhile to consider if the disparity between the Comp Plan and the ordinances could be corrected by bringing the Comp Plan in line with the ordinances, or bringing the ordinances in line with the Comp Plan. The approach taken seems to be to draft a new Comp Plan, and then new ordinances also.

    The answer may lie in analyzing whether the development that has occurred outside of the parameters of the Comp Plan are, on the whole, good or bad for Northfield.

    So, I ask you – are the new Middle School and new hospital good or bad for Northfield? Does the answer turn on whether the development is a public or private facility? What are the criteria that make some developments “good” and others “bad”?

    Whatever we do, let’s try to keep the politics out of the equation. We need to rely upon good planning techniques, as well as reflecting upon the common good for Northfield.

  9. We’ve gotten a little lax here re: the use of pseudonyms — probably because it’s been a fairly small group of contributors who know each other.

    But there are lots of others following this conversation so just in case anyone’s wondering who these jokesters are:

    “v’s Personal Favorite” = Kiffi Summa

    “The Credible Pro” = Peter Waskiw

  10. Terrific conversation, folks.

    David, as I told you at the public meeting, I liked your comments, and am delighted that they have provoked this discussion. The final version of the comp plan will be the better for your having called attention to what seems to have been an imbalance of values and for having challenged us to think in broader terms.

    Jane (a no longer “silent voice.”)

  11. Thank you Jane for those kind and encouraging words. I was beginning to question the wisdom of opening my mouth at the meeting and on Locally Grown. If it makes for a better Comp Plan, then it will have been worth the effort.

  12. David
    As per you coment above, good to see it…

    Can we dicuss good planning techniques with good planning principles with good planning process?
    Knowing your experience professionally and your role at the Chamber, I am curious about how you measure or define “Good”?

    For me it’s a measure of an outcome.

  13. David:

    Griff, Tracy and I praised and thanked you on our podcast yesterday and publicly expressed our hope that you’ll continue to participate (and speak out) as we move through the Comp Plan (and Zoning Ordinances) process.

    Ross

  14. I’m not sure that I have a good answer to the question of what constitutes “good” in terms of principles, techniques, or process.

    I would describe “good” as being “fair”. If all of the components of the development of the system are fair, then the result should be one that everyone would recognize as good.

    From a Chamber perspective, the question to the PC is, “If you were a business owner, what would be fair to you?”.

  15. Ross and Tracy
    As the chair and members of the PC, and having the role of determining and faciliating an actual decision for a group of “citizen” planners, how would you define what is “Good” with regards to the principles, techniques, or process of planning here in Northfield?

  16. David,
    Not all business owners or business’s are the same, so is not fairness subjective in the context of commercial ventures vs the individual? Does a large big box retailer consider the same issues as a small downtown retailer? Does a commercial development downtown face the same issues as a commercial development along the highway?

    If fairness is a measure of “good”, then shouldn’t the playing field where the issue of fairness is determined demonstrate the application of fairness to all? Has the PC or CC demonstrated they are fair to all?

    I think the playing field has been discussed in this thread and obviously some think that the playing field is not fair.

    Would fairness be a better measure of justice more than planning? Although, the idea is appealing in a libertarian sort of way.

  17. I think that fairness in the principles involves 3 main factors: it has to be honest, balanced, and practical.

    By honesty, we have to admit of the truth of what is or will happen. For example, subdivisions where all the houses look alike are cheaper. There are economies of scale. Some people would prefer a less expensive house even though it looks like the neighbor’s house.

    By balanced, I mean principles that don’t favor one subjective value over another. Looking nice or like Old Northfield is a subjective value. Favoring greenspace without imposing the economic cost on the residents who want it is not balanced.

    By practical, I mean that it is actually going to work. People aren’t going to walk more because we identify sidewalks as a value. They will walk more when cars are taken away.

    Outcomes are the objective measure of whether we have achieved our goals. In that sense, I like the idea of working backwards from land use maps to our values. At least we can discuss some tangible thing rather than discussing hard to define values or philosophies to planning.

    Without identifying what we intend to achieve, I think that we are going to have a difficult time identifying the ends, let alone the means to get there.

  18. The traditional model or process that’s being used places pressure on the idea of working backwards “…the idea of working backwards from land use maps to our values…”

    Although from my experience in the field of transportation planning, it makes perfect sense. First, set a vision, than work out a way to get there, with all the subjective and objective issues in the mix. Perhaps, the idea of blending visions is also important. For example, it’s very hard to work with someone when they do not have a vision of what they want, just what they don’t want.

    To a certain extent, the form based codes do lay out a vision based on design, rather than land use. However, it would seem that they try and correlate the design to a certain design. The danger is the issues related to design code vs the economic realities and choices you speak about. There needs to be a balance with regards to the type of land uses, where they go and how they are sequenced. By the way, is it fair to move public uses out to the urban expansion boundary to those that do not have cars, or who can not drive, or cannot afford to have cars, or perhaps would rather walk if given the choice? Is not choice a measure of fairness? (I especially like your comment related sidewalks. Do not sidewalks offer a neighborhood and community benefit rather than an individual preference?)

    Even though we may not totally agree on outcomes, the ability to agree on something allows the framework (comp plan, ordinance, codes etc) to be developed to ensure that the vision (on a map) can be measured against a development. SO the real benefit is that the comp plan, ordinance, codes etc, become the measure. Hang on…I thought we already do that or tried to that, (read posts 99, 100, 107 and of course the honest but misguided comment in 98.)

  19. David:
    I’m still having a hard time with a credibility issue here on a number of fronts:

    1. You say in 115 that good is “fair.” But it seems you want the invisible hand to determine where businesses can locate, which means something like free a free market approach — don’t restrict business (but that doesn’t sound fair to those citizens who don’t own businesses). You comment that the quaint downtown that many value was a sort of haphazard development (we agree on that point). So you’re asking that it be haphazard again, and that will be fair? And the process so far has not been fair to business owners because so many non-business-owning citizens had so much input so far? In the end, the position you advocate just doesn’t sound fair.

    2. In 118 you assume that “subdivisions where all houses look alike are cheaper.” Not necessarily. Some here have been talking about higher density, smaller lots, and this brings the price down.

    3. Also in 118, you speak of balance. You say “Favoring greenspace without imposing the economic cost on the residents who want it is not balanced.” But higher density can bring costs down, and green space (a park?) doesn’t need all the costly infrastructure that a developed area. You seem to assume too much about the cost of green space. There are high costs associated with sprawl, too; more use of cars, which put more wear on roads (than sidewalks and bikes). It seems sprawl imposes economic costs too.

    4. In 118 you speak of honesty and admitting the truth, but your vision of the truth seems somewhat one-sided in light of the above, and therefore imbalanced. You seem to refuse to consider the practical benefits of some of the views you oppose (your third point).

    5. In 111 you recommend, “Whatever we do, let’s try to keep the politics out of the equation.” I’m not sure what you mean by “politics” — anyone’s views that disagree with your own? It seems you’re conducting quite a campaign here in the name of the chamber, and that certainly could be seen as politics. And your own libertarian-leaning, free market views certainly may represent some of the views of chamber members, but not all. What is “politics” in the context of your recommendation?

  20. David, were you able to get some written recommendations to the Planning Commission in time to be included in the packet that goes out today in preparation for next week’s meeting?

    Could you email them to me so we can put them up here for discussion?

  21. In response to Griff’s request on the Chamber’s requested modification to the Development Principles:

    The short answer is – You can’t have them yet. The long answer is listed below.

    First, staff from the City requested that the Chamber work within the confines of the existing document to promote moving forward with one document. Rather than creating a Chamber document, we created, what we hoped, would be a document acceptable to the entire community.

    The proposed modifications were made and approved by the Chamber Board. In speaking with staff at the City, we requested the opportunity to formally present these principles to the Planning Commission. Staff advised that the consultants were preparing a revised document. This document was going to be included in the Planning Commission packet. I understand that the Planning Commission packet may also include the Chamber’s copy.

    Staff’s point, if I understand correctly, is that they need to be able to manage the process if it is going to go forward. If other organizations drafted their own priniciples, and the Chamber was already given an agenda slot, then everyone else would want equal time.

    I told staff that I would respect their judgment in the presentation of our viewpoint. I trust that our principles will get a fair hearing, whether as principles in and of themselves (unlikely) or a as critique of the ones now drafted.

    I have no objection to publishing them here for public debate. But, someone else needs to get them and present them if I am to honor my commitment to staff.

  22. For those who have been following this discussion:

    On Tuesday, the Planning Commission reviewed and essentially approved a final Development Principles document.

    In my opinion, and based upon the Chamber’s Development Principles, the revised document is a significantly improved document. The values represented are stated in more objective terms; there is more aspirational, and less mandatory, language dictating how to achieve results; a broader segment of the community, especially the business community is included; and many social values will be removed and inserted in other portions of the community building process.

    Also, the Planning Commission took a significant, albeit contentious, step forward in establishing an advisory group to make comments on the practicalities of implementing the principles and the Comp Plan. This group, composed of those who deal continuously with the land use regulations, will add the wisdom of experience to the Planning Commission’ vision, if used in a positive manner by the PC.

    The new Principles address many of the concerns of the Chamber. Some concerns were accomplished with minor wordsmithing. Other concerns remain outstanding; but, capable of compromise at a future date when vision and reality meet.

    The new document is one that I would recommend that the Board approve. It represents a fair compromise of competing values. Hopefully, we can move forward with the Moravians’ motto – Unity in the essentials, liberty in our differences. (Or something like that.)

  23. Wow. That really sounds like a significant development, David. I’m inclined to say hooray and kudos to you and Ross and others who worked on this compromise. But I’ll restrain myself until I see the new draft. Any idea when it’ll be available?

  24. Once David found out that I was an Anarchist and I found out that he was a Libertarian, compromise was quickly reached.

    😉

    Seriously, although it took eight weeks of back-and-forth, the Chamber did produce extensive comments that clarified their concerns and, in my opinion, helped to fine-tune the document sent on to the Council.

    I also think that Commissioner Ron Griffith deserves recognition for the work that he performed in “word-smithing” some of the Chamber’s ideas into the Principles.

    David and I agree, the document has been significantly improved by this process.

  25. From my perspective, the most valuable outcome was that the Chamber’s ongoing concern pointed out the gap between what was implicit and what was explicit in the draft principles, and suggested language to clarify points that needed to be made more strongly.

    The consultants, Planning Commission, and City staff had been discussing these principles off an on for many weeks, and the principles had undergone several tweaks before the draft was released. The nature of distilling ongoing discussions makes it likely that something might be missed. In this case, there were certain things implicit and “understood” in the draft principles which were not at all clear to anyone reading the draft for the first time, i.e. anyone who hadn’t been a part of the ongoing conversations prior to their formation.

    The Chamber’s suggestions highlighted the issue, and their suggested language for making certain points explicit rather than implicit was necessary and helpful. We have a better document for that.

  26. Griff – My understanding is that the new draft of the Principles would be ready for Planning Commission review at the end of last week or beginning of this week. Based upon the discussion, I was led to believe that revisions would be sent via email, and Planning Commission approval was a formality.

  27. David Ludescher –

    Are you still out there?

    Did you see the Wall Street Journal this morning (Thursday, January 24th)?

    There was an article (“Bill Gates Issues Call for Kinder Capitalism”) that referenced your favorite author, Adam Smith.

    In a discussion about either using capitalism to solve the problems of poverty or tweaking capitalism so it is more aware of the opportunities of poverty, the piece says that Gates cites not only Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”, but an earlier work called “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”.

    Gates argues that capitalism, and capitalists, can both pursue profits and take an interest in the “fortunes of others”.

    Maybe the Coen brothers can bring together both volumes in a movie…

    …shot in Northfield.

    – Ross

  28. Ross – Yes, I am still out there – some would say way out there, but …

    If you have a cite, I would like to see what he says.

  29. Dave: Here’s the URL for the recent WSJ article on Gates:
    http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB120113473219511791.html

    Gates and Warren Buffett often sing the same tune. What do these rich guys know about economics that many of the rest of us don’t?

    IMO: The New Deal, the GI Bill and war spending put people to work during the depression and created the middle class (many happy consumers). Best things that ever happened to American capitalism during the 20th Century.

    “Economic stimulus packages” and temporary spark-plugs are not enough. Investing in infrastructure (better than war spending) puts people to work (and unlike war spending, leaves us with more lasting value instead of bone-yards of outdated war-planes and warehouses of unused weapons). Taxing the rich to accomplish it is OK, and in fact, in the best interests of the rich, and of corporate America.

    But they have to be willing to delay gratification enough to work for sustainable economic gains.

    If Adam Smith were alive today, I think he’d agree. But because he’s not, I have to talk to a guy in New Orleans (middle name of “Voodoo”) who claims to converse with him now and then….

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