In an address to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower repeated an old Army axiom. “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
While Eisenhower referenced the battle planning of war, the sentiment applies equally to all areas of life. Things don’t always go according to plan, and we properly ought to regard plans as a means to an end, not an end unto themselves.
As the newest member of the Albertville City Council, I have been appointed as the body’s liaison to the Planning Commission. Our first meeting of the new year was held Monday. We heard from both the public and our city planning consultant, Al Brixius, regarding an application to rezone a lot on the northwest corner or County Road 19 and 53rd Street North to facilitate development of a permanent home for Westbridge Community Church.
The lot in question is currently zoned as a limited commercial district. The proposed change would make it a public institutional district. The proposal does not conform with the city’s established land use plan. The city has held to a vision for the County Road 19 corridor focused on commercial development.
In his presentation to the planning commission, Brixius pointed out that rezoning the lot for Westbridge Community Church would deprive the city of potential future tax revenue. Based upon an analysis of similarly zoned commercial property in the area, Albertville’s share of tax revenue from a future commercial development on the lot could be north of $133,000. The St. Michael Albertville School District and Wright County would also benefit.
However, the key word in such speculation is “potential.” As highlighted by Planning Commissioner Jeremy Dominick, the lot in question along with similarly zoned lots surrounding it have gone without commercial development for at least 15 years. There’s nothing indicating that will change anytime soon. Meanwhile, potential tax revenue has a current economic value of zero.
While a church won’t provide the property tax revenue of a commercial development, it will add to the community of neighbors vested in Albertville. In his remarks to the Planning Commission, Westbridge Pastor Jeremiah Curran noted that over 60 percent of the church’s 1,500+ church members travel from outside the St. Michael / Albertville area to attend services. These are folks who then shop at our businesses and eat at our restaurants, which contributes to the economic success of the whole community.
More fundamentally, while there may be a legitimate role for local government guidance of development in some circumstances, public officials shouldn’t become the sole barrier to an economic transaction. Generally, the market knows better than city planners what the most ideal use for a lot will be. Westbridge has their reasons for seeking this lot at a price which the current property owner is willing to accept. While each party’s reasons may not conform with the preconceptions of city planning, they nonetheless reflect the true economic value of the property. The city’s plan, by contrast, holds out for a potential value which may never manifest.
By getting out of the way and letting this development move forward, the city may provide a catalyst for the future commercial development it anticipates. Someone considering a commercial project in Albertville who currently drives down County Road 19 past vacant lots may be more inclined to build if they note a vibrant new church built along the strip.
If development is our goal, its unclear how we get there by denying development.
The Planning Commission voted to grant the application for a zoning change on Monday night. The issue will next come before the Albertville City Council at its regular meeting on March 2nd. While my current orientation on the issue is made plain above, I remain dutifully open to public argument while the matter remains under consideration, and welcome your thoughts. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.