The Town of Colonie has held a couple of meetings to review the zoning that has resulted from the Comprehensive Plan process completed in 2005. Below, is a press release sent by Dan Dustin. It is the best explanation of what is happening now, and I am publishing it in its entirety—the editor
Colonie Town Board member, Dan Dustin, is calling on Town Supervisor Paula Mahan to immediately open to the public, the meetings of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Review Committee. “The lack of transparency around this process is fueling a lot of concerns in the community,” said Dustin.
The Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2005 after a two-year long public process, outlines a vision and master plan for Colonie’s future development. The Plan specifically calls for a public review process every five years to ensure that the Plan remains current with emerging issues, trends and community concerns.
“The current Comprehensive Plan review process is a disgrace. It is being done behind closed doors with a committee that was hand-picked by the Supervisor” Dustin said. “This committee should have been established by the Town Board, the meetings should be publicly announced and open to the public; the public should have an opportunity to comment at the meetings and all meeting minutes should be posted promptly on the Town web site.”
To date, the committee has met at least three times in secret. The Committee lacks representatives from important groups in the community and no outreach has been done to solicit feedback from organizations such as: the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce and Colonie Chamber of Commerce, regional planning experts and transit interests, the school districts, housing advocates, the environmental community, including The Pine Bush Preserve Commission, and the Mohawk River Community Partners, bike and pedestrian interests and the youth and senior community-based organizations. All of these organizations were invited to participate in the development of the original 2005 Comprehensive Plan.
“I have been contacted by numerous residents and community groups concerned about the lack of transparency about this process. The Supervisor claims this is a simple review process and that these concerns are overblown,” said Dustin. “To allay these concerns, I am calling on Supervisor Mahan to immediately open this process to the public and to reach out to all residents and a wide array of groups in the community to solicit and consider their input. This process is too important to the future of the Town for it to be conducted behind closed doors.”
Colonie sits at the crossroads of the greater capital region and planning decisions that are made in Colonie have an impact on the larger region. For this reason, the 2005 Comprehensive Plan involved input from a broad spectrum of regional and town-based interests. The 2005 Plan was lauded by many when it was adopted as a forward thinking plan for the 21st Century, incorporating modern planning concepts of smart growth, mixed use, new urbanist design, and connecting neighborhoods.
Dustin added, “The review process being conducted by Supervisor Mahan undermines the very purpose of having a Comprehensive Plan in the first place, which is to engage the community in problem-solving and planning for the future of our Town. An obscure reference on the Town website soliciting written comments and a public hearing at the end of the review process does not constitute meaningful public engagement in the process. For a Supervisor who promised open and transparent government, we have gotten anything but that.”
Open meetings law has been broadly interpreted by the courts to place an emphasis on the importance of open public meetings. Recent decisions have found that gatherings of public bodies for the purpose of conducting public business are “meetings” and must be open to the public even if the meeting is considered a “work session”.
Standard practices for Comprehensive Planning, including periodic updates to a Comprehensive Plan, involve extensive public outreach and citizen involvement, employing a wide array of methods to engage the public. The 2005 Comprehensive Plan process included a Town-wide survey, and numerous open public meetings, including neighborhood and topic-specific workshops. Additionally, all meetings of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee were announced and welcomed public comment. Details about the original Comprehensive Plan, including meeting minutes for all work sessions and public meetings were made available to the public throughout the process and can be found on the Town of Colonie’s website at http://www.colonie.org/pedd/compplan/comprehensiveplanadvisorycommittee.htm#
Published in August/September Newsletter 2010