(April 30, 2007) -- About a dozen people spent Saturday morning April 28 in Lowell Elementary School's auditorium to hear details and comment on a plan for future southeast LB land use and development created by an advisory committee selected by 3rd district Councilman Gary DeLong.
Until recently, little was known about Councilman DeLong's South East Area Development & Improvement Plan" (SEADIP) advisory group except that it existed. For months, the names of the advisory committee members were kept under wraps and the group met and acted behind closed doors.
One factoid was clear: Councilman DeLong's advisory group didn't include those who'd publicly urged a moratorium on major SE area developments until a new SEADIP plan was adopted and publicly opposed the Studebaker/Loynes "Home Depot" development.
Councilman DeLong, elected in June 2006, acknowledged during his campaign that he didn't support a moratorium pending a new SEADIP and said he was keeping an open mind on the Studebaker/Loynes project. His October 2006 vote in favor of the Studebaker/Loynes development prompted some talk of a recall but [to our knowledge] that hasn't surfaced publicly since.
The names Councilman DeLong's SEADIP advisory committee members are no longer a secret. Councilman DeLong has posted them (with bios) on his Council office website along with a map of the SEADIP area and a digital slideshow. (To access these items, click here).
His advisory committee's SEADIP plan is no longer a secret. It includes bike routes and environmentally resonant items in addition to more development.
At the April 28 Lowell meeting, Councilman DeLong and several advisory committee members called their plan a work in progress, a draft...and said now is the time for public input in response to it. Councilman DeLong has scheduled a second public meeting at Lowell May 9 at 6:30 p.m...which will be followed by opportunities for more public input at the Planning Commission and the Council.
But being told their proper place is to offer audience comment on a plan created at the behest of an incumbent Councilman (in many cases their own Councilman) without their inclusion left some activists in the Lowell audience quietly fuming.
"His group wasn't inclusive and their plan includes too much development," said environmental activist Adrea Stoker.
Discussion of a new SEADIP plan comes as several major southeast area developments are advancing (though not yet approved), including a proposed extension of Shopkeeper Road in the "pumpkin patch" area abutting the "Marketplace" retail center and undeveloped wetlands, along with a nearby proposed Lennar residential/mixed use development at the already congested PCH/2nd intersection.
Isn't the SEADIP much adoo about a "plan" that some future Council can still waive, or grant variances to, to suit developers? Councilman DeLong told LBReport.com that although a future Council could waive or grant variances to a new SEADIP (or other City Hall plans), the current 30-year old SEADIP invites continuing requests for variances and waivers for developers who point out that it's out of date.
Having a new SEADIP in place should deter that, Councilman DeLong said, adding that once an updated SEADIP goes through the public process, including community meetings and Planning Commission and Council action, he intends to apply it and stick with it.
And community meetings to get public input (including the May 9 scheduled meeting at Lowell) which will be followed by Planning Commission and Council public meetings, are the real public process, Councilman DeLong has said.
During the April 28 Lowell meeting, Ms. Stoker challenged the plan's proposal to invite limited height development on what's currently undeveloped private property between a Loynes mobile home park and Studebaker Road. Why can't that land stay open and undeveloped as it is now, Ms. Stoker asked.
City staffer Angela Reynolds, and DeLong-advisory committee chair Andy Kincaid replied that the private land can't be designated as open space without City Hall paying the property owner for what would amount to a "taking" of private property to create public open space (a federal constitutional principle).
Ms. Stoker replied that she wasn't suggesting taking the land for public use; she simply wondered why it couldn't remain as it is now -- undeveloped -- and not redesignated in a city plan for development in the new SEADIP.
Both sides stated and restated their positions, and eventually Councilman DeLong said he considers the issue a matter for City Attorney Bob Shannon to decide and urged his advisory committee members to move on.
That response annoyed Ms. Stoker even more.
In an effort to guage the level of displeasure (she's well connected in local environmental circles), we asked Ms. Stoker if she'd heard any talk about recalling Councilman DeLong. In a matter-of-fact tone, Ms. Stoker replied, "Yes, but we've got our hands full with other things right now."
Councilman DeLong wil be holding another community meeting on the SEADIP plan at Lowell Elementary (5201 E. Broadway) on May 9 at 6:30 p.m.