The Planning Department is dedicated to serving Lincoln County with land use planning, development coordination, local zoning regulation administration, promotion of comprehensive and smart growth concepts and special project management in order to enhance the quality of life and economic vitality of Lincoln County.
Samantha J. Mendez
Interim Planning Director
109 Kansas City Road
Ruidoso, New Mexico 88345
"Planning is bringing the future into the present, so that you can do something about it now." Alan Lakein
EXPLAINING SMART GROWTH
Did you know that most of New Mexico’s planning and zoning laws are based upon laws drawn up in the 1920’s? I think the world has changed somewhat since Herbert Hoover (who actually authored some of these) was our Secretary of Commerce. New Mexico faces many planning challenges and if we interpret our State Motto literally as "It grows as it goes" then say goodbye to your beloved Land of Enchantment when we increase by another 600,000 citizens between now and 2025. If you savor the idea that we should look like every other place and loose our uniqueness to development solutions crafted elsewhere to satisfy someone else’s bottom line, then you are not in favor of smart growth, and there is no need to read any further. As for sprawl at the edges of our cities, let’s just paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart who would have said, "I know it when I see it," and frankly, most of us not only dislike it, but even understand that as the only model for growth it will lead to ugly public budgets as well as ugly views.
There is broad consensus in our society that land use and development should be controlled. When imposing requirements on a project it is always important that there be a balance between respecting private property rights and providing for the public good. By and large, planning commissions and staff are very careful to require changes to a plan that are based upon the community’s plans. Smart growth espouses that there are many ways to create communities and that how land is used is integral to long-term sustainability for communities and society. It fully acknowledges markets and capitalism. It has evolved over the past decade as a tool kit to address problems posed by trends in land use that have not been addressed. Smart growth acknowledges that growth will happen but that choices to direct that growth need to be community choices. It does not abrogate affordable housing, good jobs or the quality of life.
The only "agenda" behind smart growth or "growing smart" as it is called by the American Planning Association, is that a variety of land use planning approaches will provide us with more choices to make better decisions in the short and long-term. Smart growth means different things to different people but there is some consensus emerging that is supported by people from most of the mainstream of our society – from builders and developers to environmentalists (not that these have to be mutually exclusive). I would suggest that anyone wishing to get a grasp of what smart growth is do a bit of web browsing to replace polemics with specifics. For example, maybe you’d like check out the wealth of perspectives and information about smart growth at www.planning.org where I guarantee you won’t find any easy answers, but you will find that this isn’t about slogans.
Planning is about being pro-active and providing intelligent options to confront and manage change.
Q. Ok, why do we plan anyway? Does it have any practical value?
A. One answer to the first part of this question is that New Mexico state law allows and encourages communities, counties and regional development agencies to plan. But that's not a very satisfying answer. Planning does have practical as well as idealistic values. As we look into them, you will begin to understand why the state legislature thought it well to authorize local governments to do comprehensive planning.
Q. Idealism aside, what are some of the practical values of comprehensive planning?
A. We all plan at some time in our lives and when we do, it's usually for one of two basic reasons. One is we want to accomplish something, some goal, be it practical or idealistic. Or we want to avoid or prevent something, such as poverty or getting sick. In planning we use whatever facts we have to help us make our best guess about the future and choose the best and most practicable steps to accomplish our goals.
The same concept is good for cities, towns, and counties, or just about any other organization as well. And that's why the New Mexico legislature decided to strongly encourage them to do what are called general or comprehensive plans.
Q. I see your point, but communities, counties, or regions aren't individuals who can make decisions on their own. Just who decides what are government goals and desires that are to be planned for? How can you ever get everyone to agree on everything?
A. You're right, unanimous agreement on goals and policies is well-nigh inconceivable. So, in doing a general plan, you do the best you can to elicit public input. The planning process takes the substance of our values, goals and needs and translates them into the substance of policy. We all need to be heard from in making the process, or we may not be heard from at all.
It is an axiom of planning that public opinion must be sought diligently. Some of the ways you can involve citizens in planning are: speeches before organizations; polls and surveys, both in newspapers and on telephones; appointing citizen committees; and well publicized public meetings and workshops. Planners must always remember to hold meetings at times convenient to citizens, and to ask citizens what they want for their future. After all of this, the staff, commission, special planning committees, and ultimately the city or county council must decide on which goals, policies, benchmarks and land-use arrangements best embody a consensus of public opinion tempered with good judgment.
Q. I see, but let's get back to the first question, why plan?
A. There are six generally accepted reasons or justifications for planning:
1. It is a way to prepare for the future. Most of our discussion so far has been on this point. This fits in with one inexorable definition of planning, as "intelligent cooperation with the inevitable."
2. Planning identifies problems and points the way to solutions. Just taking a systematic, thorough look at the current situation and thinking about the implications for the future, can bring these things to light.
3. It helps us to do first things first. In other words, it provides a rationale for assigning priorities. Should we build more streets before more sewer lines? Should we build a new community center before upgrading fire stations, or vice versa?
4. Through planning, you can come up with sound policies for address growth or decline. Where should new housing go? What's to become of downtown if we encourage an outlying shopping center? A good plan will suggest answers to perplexing questions.
5. Planning helps to coordinate development projects with one another. In other words, making sure that adequate roads and utilities are in place before the new shopping center or subdivision or dairy farm are opened.
6. Planning can educate, involve and inform the public as well as public officials. A soundly reasoned plan, especially one where there has been good public participation, can forestall opposition to implementing what might have been controversial policies or projects or constructing the wrong project. Another aspect of this is that a plan and participating in planning can reveal the potential for change and improvement to a community to those who had never thought of such things before. Planning can be a real eye-opener.
Q. I never thought of it that way. A good plan can really help, but it sure is a lot of work. It's a good thing that we wouldn't have to do it again for 20 years or so.
A. WRONG! If you do planning right, once you start, you never stop. Even though the plan that you adopt may be called the plan for 1998-2018, you should continually monitor the situation and amend the plan. Minor amendments can be adopted every year or tow, with a thorough revision every five years a good practice. Using a twenty-year plan is a little like walking through the woods with a flashlight on a dark night. The shape of your community twenty years from now is like the dim, shadowy shapes at the far reach of the flashlight bean. Something is there. It looks like a bounder, but as you get closer and the light gets brighter, you see that it's a bush. With your community, as you proceed along the time line into the future, things that you once guessed at come into sharper focus, and you have to take the new data and circumstances into account in the plan. So you keep revising the plan to keep the 20-year flashlight beam constantly in front of you.
[Q&A Adapted from newsletter #5, February, 1993, Arizona Department of Commerce, Community Planning Assistance Program.]