Master plans are a wonderfully convenient political safety net.
When needed, government decision makers cite the master plan as law - and when politically expedient, make no hesitation to ignore it as merely a non-binding statement of general guidelines.
At a recent Dayton Regional Advisory Council meeting, board member Richard Foley asked: "Is a master plan a guideline or is it treated as laws waiting to happen? If in fact it is law, it should probably be published as such and maybe enacted as one right off the bat."
Disturbed at the Lyon County commissioner's recent granting of a zone change request to developer Bob Hughes for development of 12,000-square-foot lots on 55 acres fronting Highway 50 east of Dayton, Foley said if master plans, reviewed every 10 years, are used as zone change mandates it removes the people affected by the changes from the decision making process.
Though the Master Plan designates the area as medium density residential, Mr. Hughes property is surrounded by low-density zoned two- and five-acre residential parcels.
Since 1990, over the objections of the advisory council and planning commission, commissioners have granted a number of zone changes, allowing his once rural residential property to become the future site of up to 200 homes and nine acres of commercial development. And, as surely as the wind will blow again in Dayton, developers owning the surrounding undeveloped properties will swoop like vultures to take advantage of the newly opened opportunity to contribute to this valley's housing proliferation!
Ignoring the very obvious "spot zoning," cited by both the council and planning board, commissioners have often alluded to the master plan as their reason for overturning the recommendations relating to Mr. Hughes' requests.
"I thought we (advisory council) were rather definitive regarding the zone change for Mr. Hughes for what I think were well stated reasons; however, this is not the first time this has happened," Foley said of the commissioner's most recent overturning of the council's recommendation.
Mr. Foley raised some excellent points as he spoke of his frustrations.
"I get the feeling its almost as if hands are tied if land is designated as a use in the master plan. That, quite frankly, negates the whole need for even a zoning hearing. It throws the entire onus on the master plan committee, and though they work very hard on it, I don't know that any of them can see 10 years in the future as to what is best for a certain area. It puts the people affected by the changes out of the loop."
Well stated. But I doubt his words will make much of a dent in the cozy relationship some members of this board of commissioners have with particular developers.
At this same meeting, another advisory board member who is also a member of the committee currently updating the 1990 master plan, said the committee couldn't keep track of all the subdivisions currently on the books. The 'spot zoning' approval of Hughes 12,000 square foot lots and commercial property has created the potential for hundreds of additional homes in the currently rural adjacent areas.
Master plans are guidelines. Those who help write them do their best to plan for the county's future needs and wishes, but, as time passes and changes occur, needs and wishes within particular areas change. Each zoning application must be considered on its current merits.
To use the master plan as a sole reason for granting a zone change, particularly when that zone change is so obviously out of character within a particular area, is laughing in the face of an ethical planning process.
Having said this, however, I also realize the reality of the political world. Elected officials will continue to lean on the master plan as 'law' when politically convenient and, in turn, simply ignore it as when the converse political need arises.
Nothing can reverse past decisions regarding Mr. Hughes' property. The challenge will be for those with more rational (and less politically motivated) minds to try and stem the potential consequences of that gratuitous judgment.
Think about it.