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Basic Concepts of the Master Plan

Letter to Planning Board, December 20, 2017

With the planning staff beginning work on a rewrite of the General Plan, it is essential that we reexamine the fundamental principles that underlie it. The Wedges and Corridors Plan of the 1960s was a pathbreaking document and our county has benefited enormously from it. Yet we still suffer from unaffordable housing and unsatisfactory transportation.

These problems are rooted in the General Plan’s basic concepts. Specifically, we believe that the goals of “mobility,” “compatibility,” and “housing adequacy” are counterproductive and should be replaced with “accessibility,” “variety,” and “housing affordability.”

Mobility is defined, in essence, as the speed of motor vehicle movement. Accessibility is the number and variety of destinations reachable within a given time, by any means of travel. Mobility as a goal inherently promotes suburban sprawl. Moreover, the endless highway expansions it requires are not affordable, and so it creates the very traffic congestion it aims to prevent.

Compatibility is rarely defined clearly. This is very likely because the word is frequently used as a euphemism for social and economic exclusion. For example, a 6-story apartment building might be found incompatible if built next to a single-family house, but a single-family house would be compatible with an adjoining apartment building. This concept improperly privileges detached houses over other living arrangements (as the 1993 General Plan does explicitly on page 23) and promotes the separation of downtowns from nearby residences with empty buffers consisting of parking lots and parks. Setting a goal of variety would instead encourage the mixing of different building types and uses and gradual transitions among different densities.

Housing adequacy, as interpreted in the 1993 plan, merely expands housing supply at the same pace as employment. This is not sufficient at a time of severe housing shortage and price pressure. Planners must actively promote increased supply in order to secure housing affordability.

While much staff work will be required to thoroughly excise the concepts of mobility, compatibility, and housing adequacy from the new General Plan, we would suggest the following language for the overall housing and transportation goals:

· Make housing more available and affordable for people of all incomes, ages, lifestyles, and physical capabilities by promoting increased supply and the mixing of building sizes and uses at densities and locations that are accessible by multiple forms of transportation.
· Enhance accessibility and safety by transitioning to a transportation system that is compatible with denser and more walkable land use patterns and does not privilege driving over other forms of travel.


Ronit Aviva Dancis

Action Committee for Transit