Public Dialogue about Land Use Planning

Public Dialogue About Land Use Planning

There are 15,360,000 acres in West Virginia, 24,000 square miles of land. How is this land being used? How should this land be used? With so many uses for land, it can be hard to decide the ‘best’ use. Fortunately, there are many bright minds discussing this very issue. One of my favorite things about land use law is the focus on public dialogue. Public participation is frequently required by law during the planning process. For example, in West Virginia when preparing a comprehensive plan, a planning commission must incorporate public participation. Recently, the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic solicited public input for the City of Summersville Comprehensive Plan. We sent our Lead Land Use Attorney Jesse Richardson, Chet Parsons from URS Corporation and two students Liz Grant and Brittney Rimney to Summersville High School to interview high school students. The students, pictured above, marked a map of the city to show their comments and suggestions. The students had strong views about the future of their community, including the need for more ice cream stores!

Jared Anderson, a Clinic attorney, along with Jesse and our planner Christy Burnside DeMuth solicited similar comments from students for the Fayetteville Comprehensive Plan. According to Jared, “While the youth do not typically go to public meetings or public hearings, they can often be a great resource for meaningful input. What I have found is that they are brutally honest and will tell a planner exactly what, in their mind, needs to be addressed in their community. If a couple of roads need to be fixed they will not say “our roads need to be improved” they will say “Road A and Road B are terrible, they have potholes all over them, and Road C has no sidewalks. Also students want a steakhouse in Fayetteville so they don’t have to travel all the way down to Beckley to get a good Sirloin ” These specific examples were brought up in Fayetteville by the students at Fayetteville High. The views and ideas of the youth should also be sought out and included because they see the municipality through a different lens than the governing body, planning commission, or citizen planners. They may offer insights that have never been addressed in the public meetings/hearings. The youth may be living in the community in the following years; doesn’t it make sense to include their opinions and insights when completing a comprehensive plan?”

Public Dialogue about Land Use Planning

Two law students used a different strategy to solicit public input, for the Fayetteville Comprehensive Plan. Tyler Reseter and Matt Chase surveyed citizens and tourists attending bridge day near Fayetteville. Bridge Day is the world’s largest extreme sports event, with hundreds of base jumpers and up to 80,000 spectators. The survey asked questions like, “What is missing in Fayetteville that would make it a better place to live in or visit?” Of course not everyone wanted to fill out the survey, but the students gathered valuable data for the town to consider when planning for the future. More detailed surveys were distributed to residents of Fayetteville by mail and an online survey provides hundreds of responses from residents. 
Many communities in West Virginia are currently adopting or amending comprehensive plans. I will be curious to see the types of strategies they use to solicit input. Yesterday Christy Burnside DeMuth provided a list of these strategies to our student clinicians. This list is so great, it is worth sharing…

  • Steering Committee Meetings
  • Focus Groups
  • Municipal official briefings
  • Meetings in a box
  • Social media
  • Kiosk/lobby display
  • Press releases
  • Cable TV
  • Website
  • Direct mail surveys
  • Email blasts
  • Stakeholder interviews
  • 3D tools
  • Neighborhood meetings
  • Public hearings