By Mark Carlisle
Litchfield Park has begun the process of reviewing its general plan and will likely present a new version of the document for voter approval on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.
General plans expire after 10 years under state law, and Litchfield Park’s was adopted in 2010. Under state law, Litchfield Park must have voter approval for a new general plan.
A city’s general plan is a document that outlines general community goals and standards and designates specific land uses for each area of the city.
“The purpose of this General Plan is to identify community goals and designate the proposed general distribution, location and extent of such uses of land and other measures to satisfy the goals of this document,” states the city’s current general plan. “The goals shall be to maintain, improve and protect the highly desirable physical and social living environment of the City of Litchfield Park.”
City staff has begun the process of reviewing and possibly revising the general plan, headed by Planning Services Director Pam Maslowski and Planning Consultant Jason Sanks.
Ms. Maslowski described the general plan as a “guiding document.”
“It provides a general guideline for the city, and then as decisions come up, as the Council and commissions examine and review different items that come before them, they’re supposed to keep the general plan in mind as they make those decisions,” Ms. Maslowski said.
General plan adoption would not require a vote if City Council were to readopt the current general plan, but it would need voter approval if it is changed, which Ms. Maslowski thinks is likely.
“I think we will be doing some updates to it,” she said. “It’s always good to go through it, and we’ll get a lot of citizen input… I believe we’ll make some changes to the plan and that we will most likely bring an updated plan to the voters.”
While the city will likely put a revised plan to the voters for approval in November 2020, the current plan expires six months before that, because it was adopted in May of 2010. Ms. Maslowski said City Council will likely readopt the current general plan in the spring, which does not require voter approval because the plan is unchanged, until the new plan is voted on.
After staff creates a new plan it will be presented for public feedback at public meetings and go before City Council for approval before it heads to the ballot for final voter approval next year.
The ballot question would be a “yes” or “no” question. There will be a general description of the plan and its elements in the election pamphlet as well as full copies of the plan made available for the public to view, including on the city’s website.
Staff aims to complete a draft by the fall. In the fall or winter, the draft will be presented in workshop meetings for public review. City Council must approve of a general plan draft by no later than July 6, 2020 for it to meet the legal requirement of being approved and posted 120 days before it appears on the ballot, Nov. 3, 2020. Council aims to approve a draft by Spring 2020.
Ms. Maslowski said she didn’t know which areas might be changed in a revised plan.
“But it’s been 10 years. So, you know, things change,” she said.
During a presentation to City Council last month, Mr. Sanks mentioned areas that could be amended.
One change, he said, will be changing language from the 2010 general plan that references the Village Center Specific Plan to City Center Land Use Designations. Both refer to land uses for Litchfield Park’s planned City Center development, a mixed-use project that would overhaul downtown into a commercial destination. The name shifted from Village Center to City Center in the past decade. Initial construction projects for the development have been slated for the current fiscal year in the city’s budget.
With increasing property values in the city, Mr. Sanks said that the new general plan address redevelopment and renovation in addition to new development. He explained the city’s housing stock is aging, and as property values continue to increase, the land has the potential to be worth more than the home on it, resulting in homes being bulldozed and rebuilt entirely. He noted this trend is occurring nationwide and addressing it in the general plan will help to preserve the city’s character.
The new general plan could feature changes to standards around new development as well. Mr. Sanks explained that because Litchfield Park is heavily dependent on sales tax revenue, the general plan could include standards to help guide future development discussions to ensure the city remains sustainable.
Vice Mayor Paul Faith asked Ms. Goodwin if revising land uses could potentially subject the city to a Proposition 207 claim, which may entitle a property owner to compensation if their land value is diminished as a result of land use decisions. Ms. Goodwin said she believed it could, but the property owner would have to prove a diminution of value.
Mr. Sanks said staff intends to update the circulation maps in the general plan to differentiate between major and minor streets and include a separate map that shows walking, biking and cart paths.
In addition to land uses, development and circulation, the general plan will address goals and standards around the environment and water resources. Other elements that could be added to the new general plan include historic preservation, revitalization and recreation.
Under state law, only cities with more than 10,000 people or cities of 2,500-10,000 people that saw population increases of 10% or more over the last decade are required to have voters approve a new general plan. According to census estimates, Litchfield Park had a population of 6,310 in 2018, a 15.2% increase over 2010.
When Litchfield Park adopted its general plan in 2010, it did not require voter approval because the city had not had a population growth of 10% or more.