As a longtime resident of Richmond, an architect and planner, a former member of the Planning Commission and a former member of the Urban Design Committee, I have been closely following the controversy over the new Master Plan and the proposed Echo Harbour development on Richmond's downtown riverfront.
As reported May 6 (“Flynn's Last Stand,” News & Features), it seems that the developer and certain members of City Council and the Planning Commission want us to believe that the planning department, led by its director, Rachael Flynn, is unreasonably obstructing the approval of the development of the property. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The city would not stand in the way of the property being developed in accordance with its existing zoning, M-2. However, the developer bought the property with full knowledge that his proposed residential development did not conform to that zoning and that he would require a rezoning in order to do what he wanted. In fact, it seems that he has applied not only for a rezoning but also for a special use permit because he does not even want to conform to the height requirements of the rezoning. Unfortunately, it seems that he made a rather imprudent decision to assume that he could do whatever he wanted.
Getting this development right is something in which the whole community has a stake. While the owner's interests should certainly be taken into account, rezoning and special use permits must reflect the public's interests before private interests. I think it is entirely appropriate, even essential, that the planning director weigh in on the debate on behalf of the greater good for the whole community. Flynn's sound professional judgment, detailed knowledge of good planning practices and clear vision of Richmond's future will enable city policy-makers to make the right decisions on Echo Harbour. Far from being condemned as an obstructionist, she should be commended as a strong and principled advocate for the public interest and Richmond's future.
Sanford Bond, AIA
Style Weekly asks what Rachel Flynn has done in its controversial article on Richmond's planning director. What Flynn has done is to be a city official for the residents. She actually asked them what they wanted their city to look like. She took the residents' vision and mentored it for our elected officials' consideration. Quite frankly, I think that is leadership. It is easy to be reactive to our many issues and crises. It is harder to be proactive to create a plan with thousands of people and differing thoughts, as well as to hold true to that plan and its vision.
Our city has been through many master plan processes. This plan was different. Flynn made it different. She made it the people's plan. She gave the community a forum for their vision to be heard.
Flynn is a straight shooter. There are times when this may create uncomfortable and unpleasant situations for some people. We cannot overlook that this style creates an environment of honesty. We are fortunate to have a well-educated, informed and knowledgeable person at the helm of planning. Her office door is always open. She is accessible to all and returns calls and e-mails. That is quite refreshing, given that is not always the case of all government officials.
Richmond is most fortunate to have a true leader, a city servant who is accessible, inclusive, competent, practical and participatory, and serves the city's residents well.
Mary Jane Hogue
Historic Richmond Foundation