Communities should not be discouraged from challenging financial times

Communities should continue to effectively plan despite financial hardships. Master Planning is a long-term process, even during difficult times.

In communities, master plan development is most effective when the community has a considerable amount of input in the decision-making. The challenge for some communities, especially those that are financially distressed, is staying on track and eventually implementing those plans. Developing a master plan and using that plan to drive zoning codes and other city ordinance amendments is essential to creating attractive and financially-viable cities, villages and townships. Michigan State University Extension understands the complications that may arise when a community is trying to improve their community with little financial backbone; however, it is possible. Let us discuss a hypothetical situation where a community was placed in this type of similar scenario.

This community has lost more than one-half of its total budget over the last five years. It has struggled as land values have declined and revenues from property taxes have shrunk. Before the financial downturn, the small village developed a new master plan and subsequently updated its zoning code in order to implement that plan. The Village had taken considerable time to establish development priorities consistent with the goals of local residents. The plan and the code were based on sound planning principles. The plan sought to develop a viable mixed-use downtown district and increase opportunities for commercial and multi-family development.

Unfortunately, development projects were slow to materialize as the community struggled to balance its limited budget. To spur development, the Village planned to increase the diversity of businesses in its downtown district. Initially this may sound like a good idea. However, the community lost sight of their original development plan and allowed businesses such as pawn shops and thrift stores to materialize in their downtown district. These businesses do not add diversity or uniqueness to their downtown area and are only moving them farther away from their ultimate developmental goal.

The lesson here is an important one. For most communities, creating interesting and attractive business districts does not happen by accident. Some of Michigan’s best examples of attractive downtowns are based on well-planned zoning codes designed with an overall community vision. Communities must remember that long-term development takes time, and they should not abandon the community vision even during difficult financial times. They should stay focused on their long-term development goals and work to create the kind of community their plans support and for which their residents have asked. 

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