The Plano City Council will decide the fate of the highly controversial Plano Tomorrow comprehensive plan Monday.
The meeting could be the culmination of 11 months of debate between city officials and a group of residents opposed to Plano Tomorrow who say the plan encourages the development of high-density apartment buildings that would bring an influx of low-income students to Plano ISD schools.
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the plan last month. At that meeting, about 300 residents packed the council chambers to express their disdain for the proposal, some shouting from the audience and becoming unruly.
Allen Samara, a member of the four-person committee for Plano Future, a group opposed to the plan, said the group is working to “pack the hall” with as many residents opposed to the plan as they can Monday.
“We hope to change the minds of the City Council, if they’re changeable,” he said.
Samara said one of the group's primary concerns is that three of the six new land use definitions prescribed by the plan allow for mixed-use development or redevelopment that combines retail, business and residential uses – an aspect of the plan critics believe opens the door for higher-density housing in several areas of the city.
“I live near 15th Street and Independence, and I think it’s pretty burned out there, retail-wise, but putting in four-story buildings is not a good answer,” he said.
Some critics have mulled initiating a petition for a recall election if council members approve the plan. Samara said that while they’re investigating that option, the group is waiting to see how the council votes on the matter before deciding the next step.
“We’re not here to threaten anyone,” he said. “We want our city representatives to represent the people that live here, and we think they’ve gone awry. But if they choose not to represent us, then we have to do what we do here in America, and that is exercise our rights as voting citizens.”
If approved, Plano Tomorrow will replace the city’s existing comprehensive plan, which the city approved in 1986. If the council rejects the plan, the current comprehensive plan will remain in place, and the council will likely offer planning staff members suggestions for another comprehensive plan proposal.
While a city's comprehensive plan does not create any zoning ordinances, it serves as a guide for planning and zoning commissioners and city council members deliberating future zoning cases. Such plans define several land use categories and determine where in the city those uses would be appropriate.
Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said the plan does nothing to change the “suburban character” of Plano and in fact protects neighborhoods from the encroachment of high-density, multifamily housing. The plan's language prohibits multifamily development in single-family residential neighborhoods and names single-family uses as “desired” in mixed-use redevelopment of four-corner neighborhood retail centers.
“The reality is our city will continue to grow in a very smart and reasonable way to maximize our land use,” he said. “One size does not fit all, so it’s not appropriate to even say if it’s four-corner [retail] it’s going to be apartments. It doesn't necessarily work that way.
“It hasn't worked that way in the last 30 years. It won't work like that 30 years going forward.”
LaRosiliere also said Plano Tomorrow does not change the existing review process for individual zoning cases, for which approval is needed from both the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council, with public hearings at each meeting to gather public input.
“It is our desire for Plano to remain the city that it is,” he said, “but if we make no plan, the city’s going to grow regardless.”
Not all voices at the council meeting are going to be opposed to Plano Tomorrow. On Friday, Plano Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jamee Jolly sent out an email to thousands of members requesting their presence at the meeting to express support for the plan.
Jolly said members of the chamber have been involved in the plan’s development since the beginning, participating in the very first workshops held on the matter two years ago and hosting a forum on the plan with city officials that drew in about 65 participants. The Chamber’s board of directors approved a resolution in favor of the plan in late June.
“Based on our research, based on the info that’s in the plan, and with a focus on not only how this impacts the business community but also how it impacts quality of life in our city, we feel like it’s a plan that is going to guide us through the next 30 years of our development and redevelopment,” Jolly said. “We feel like it’s something that citizens should support and the council should approve.”
Jolly said the chamber has looked all the definitions for future land use and land use maps. While there is some opportunity for mixed-use apartments and townhomes, she said, the figure of 40,000 apartments coming to Plano claimed by some opposition members is “exaggerated.”
“The goal of the plan is to take certain areas of our city that need redevelopment and revitalization and put emphasis on that, so if a developer is looking for areas to go in and redevelop, there is a vision,” she said. “The plan really is a vision statement, and it provides an overview of what we hope to see develop in our city. Parts of Plano are aging, and we need to make sure that Plano stays vibrant so that we have long-term success and economic stability.”
The Collin County Business Association has also expressed support for the plan.