The Commissioner — Fall 2010
Blue Springs, Missouri, Planning Commission
We want community involvement. It's important for people here to understand why decisions are made and to have a voice in what's happening," says Susan Culpepper, chair of the planning commission in Blue Springs, Missouri.
To that end, on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, planning commission meeting are streamed live online. The material is later archived and made available as a webcast.
"What's great about that is we can reach out and see how many people are watching," says Kim Nakahodo, the city's public information officer. "It gives us a measurable matrix. If viewership is up, it could be that something is a hot topic."
The 11-member planning commission serves primarily in an advisory capacity but does make final determinations on issues such as design review, the comprehensive plan, and preliminary plat review. Nominated by the mayor and approved by the city council, planning commission members may serve an unlimited number of four-year terms.
Commissioners receive agendas, applications, staff reports, and other information the Wednesday before the meeting. "That gives me enough time to do my homework, to visit sites and to listen to the community and neighbors about projects adjacent to them," says Michael Parker, the commission's vice chair.
The planning commission stays on top of issues and trends. "When they see potentially controversial projects that repeat themselves, they view it as an opportunity to review and possibly revise the code," says Scott Allen, the community development director. "They take it upon themselves to make recommendations to council. Recently we revised our sign code after an appeal."
Planning commissioners are volunteers. The panel currently includes, among other professions, an engineer, builder, accountant, real estate agent, and a county planner. "It's always nice to have a range of expertise," says Culpepper. "That way if we have a question about an engineering issue, for example, there's someone who can help walk us through the pros and cons."
To encourage communication, the planning commission has, for the past several years, cohosted an annual workshop for developers. "We bring new codes and new projects to their attention," says Allen, "and we do a Q&A as well." The most recent session, in February, included a presentation of economic and community development trends, an overview of brownfield development opportunities, and an update of proposed projects as well as those under way.
While Blue Springs is not without its controversial issues, Culpepper believes the community is committed to a high quality of life and recognizes that planning is a tool to achieve that. "We all talk to each other and work together to do quality development in Blue Springs," she says.
Issues in Blue Springs
After years of sometimes intense community discussion, the City of Blue Springs developed a vision for its downtown. To help achieve its goals, the planning commission approved "a form-based code, which is new for us," says Susan Culpepper. An alternative to conventional zoning, a form-based code uses physical form, rather than separation of uses, as its organizing principle.
Despite the national economic slowdown, a number of major development projects are under way in this community of 62,000 situated 20 miles east of Kansas City, Missouri. "Adams Dairy Landing is a 500,000-square-foot development along our premier corridor," says Michael Parker. "It's been a big boon for the city, sitting as it does on the eastern edge of the Kansas City metro area."
The Missouri Innovation Park, currently under development, will be a more than 250-acre science and technology hub for knowledge-based innovation and commercialization. "The focus of Innovation Park is combining like sciences and like companies to create a synergy," says Culpepper.
When completely built out, the park will feature 1.74-million square feet of space and provide some 5,900 jobs. "It includes the University of Missouri School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, Food and Nutrition program, and College of Veterinary Medicine," he says. The university opened its Mizzou Center in May, two years ahead of schedule.
As the commission increasingly focuses on issues of sustainability, it amended its unified development code to allow wind turbines in industrial areas. "We had someone developing offices and warehouses in a light industrial zone who was interested in utilizing micro wind turbines for powering outhousing areas," says Scott Allen, the city's community development director. After consulting with in-house and other legal experts, "we felt it was something we could weave into our current code while protecting the health and safety of neighboring residents."
As Blue Springs's population increased over the years—growing from about 6,800 residents in 1970 to over 62,000 now—the design of multifamily structures slowly became a topic of concern, especially among architects who occasionally found themselves back at the drawing board. The city's multifamily design task force, chaired by Parker, crafted standards that respect the character of the surrounding residential area by encouraging architectural features that establish a blend of styles and prevent extremes. "Our planning commission has set the bar high," says Allen, noting that quality development is embraced by both citizens and developers alike.