Plano Plan Encourages Urban Development, But Some Residents Aren't Happy
Plans for Plano’s future has managed to garner significant controversy over the past year. The tension reached a tipping point earlier this month, when the Plano City Council recently passed its comprehensive plan, which addresses growth and development over the next three decades.
Now, critics of the plan are considering petitioning a recall election for the mayor and the city council members who approved it.
Plano embraces urban development
The Plano Tomorrow plan puts a strong emphasis on denser living and mixed-use spaces. City officials say the city is running out of undeveloped land -- about 7 percent -- to sustain large single-family development, but some residents worry that a more urbanized plan might destroy Plano’s signature suburban character.
No doubt, the city has been trying to reinvent itself over the past few decades. It has encouraged more walkability embraced light rail and welcomed more high-end retail. With the new comprehensive plan, the hope is to transform the sleepier pockets of the city into more vibrant neighborhoods, like the Shops at Legacy in West Plano.
Since it opened in 2001, The Shops has become a lively town center with popular restaurants and bars as well as high-end apartments and townhomes. This place is a poster child for the potential of mixed-use development in Plano -- and the city wants to do more of it. The new Legacy West development, slated to open in 2016, is an example -- so is the continuing development at Downtown Plano.
“It’s really about creating efficiency and options for people,” said Christina Day, the director of planning for Plano. “We know that Plano has very little undeveloped land left, so our opportunities to do the type of suburban development we’ve done in the past are limited.”
That’s the main reason fueling the new comprehensive plan, which is only the third one in the city’s history. The last plan was drafted back in 1986, when the population was only 107,000. Today, it’s more than double that. Day said planners then didn’t anticipate such rapid growth or even the advent of mixed-use, urban-style development.
The mayor is "messing with the DNA of the city"
“This plan, unfortunately, despite the finely tuned words and city-planning jargon, is really a way to pave the way for more high-density apartments for Plano. They’ve unfortunately taken the attitude that high-density apartments is smart growth. It isn’t,” said Allan Samara, who’s part of an opposition group called Plano Future.
To Samara and other critics, adding more apartment buildings will create road congestion, overburden police and fire departments and overcrowd schools, all things they say make Plano worth living and investing in. Another opposition group, called Protect Plano, has also spoken out against the plan.
“The mayor’s plan is not evolution. It’s engineering. He’s messing with the DNA of the city, so that it grows in a way that he perceives it to be correct,” said Matt Dixon, leader of Protect Plano. “He’s not letting the city grow organically. Plano is a city of excellence. But it’s also a city of families.”
Plano Future has recently launched a petition drive to take the comprehensive plan to a referendum vote. The group has until Nov. 10 to collect 1,861 signatures to make the petition valid -- though the city attorney has said referendum votes aren’t possible with zoning issues. Both groups have said they’ll exhaust all avenues before resorting to a recall bid. They say they hope they don’t have to.
A plan for the future
The Plano Tomorrow plan took 26 months to draft, and it’s based on input from more than 4,000 residents. Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said he understands not everyone is satisfied with the plan. Ultimately, it came down to balancing the needs of the present community and plans for the future.
“We all love the city. Those who oppose the plan, they love Plano. They're passionate about it, but so [are the] council and I, and so [are] the staff. We put our heart and soul into making this a wonderful place to live, so the difference of opinion to me does not mean that we’re not listening, we just don’t agree,” said Mayor LaRosiliere.
Planning Director Christina Day said that doesn’t mean they’re going to change Plano’s suburban character. She said the comprehensive plan also puts a strong emphasis on preserving neighborhoods. City maps show that plans for mixed-use developments are designated mostly along major transportation corridors, like highways and rail, as well as near existing malls and developments.
“Plano has been changing since World War II. We’ve been a fast growth community. We have become an economic center,” said Day. “We want to maintain what is good about the community but also look to the future and provide opportunities for all people to remain in Plano.”