mailman"Public comments are welcome," said the Town of Lansing's website advertisement for the August 30 'informational meeting' about the Town's proposed Comprehensive Plan. At the well-attended event, officials talked for 50 minutes about the process of drafting the plan without once mentioning its contents or its implications.

Chair of the former Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, Connie Wilcox, facilitated the session. Supervisor Ed LaVigne, Town Attorney Guy Krogh, and planning consultant Michael Long also spoke, all without addressing the content of the plan, which was the whole reason everyone had come.

Mr. LaVigne declined to take or answer questions, saying he preferred to address public concerns in one-on-one conversations after the meeting…In other words, off video and out of earshot of others.

Indeed, during the last two years of crafting this Comprehensive Plan, the Town of Lansing has not offered a public presentation on the actual contents of the document. This, for many residents, who do not have time to plow through more than 100 pages of technical language, is akin to withholding information. At the few meetings that have been held, the presentation was focused on the process, it omitted the most relevant information—the actual content of the plan. (Throughout this time, the Lansing Planning Board has also failed to conduct any public hearings at all, eliminating an essential, and legally mandated, step in public learning and acting on the content of the updated plan.)

I joined the Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee in January 2016 in hopes of being part of a process where the town as a whole discussed the revising of Lansing's Comprehensive Plan. While the committee created some important chapters, I was disappointed in much of the process. I feel it's important now to show residents just how their opinions and wishes have been kept out of the development of this crucial document.

At my first meeting of the Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, I proposed that we hold a series of neighborhood meetings to discover residents' specific needs. I had participated in a similar process elsewhere, and the insights it generated were essential to the direction ultimately taken by that town's new comprehensive plan. In sharp contrast, the majority of Lansing's committee members have not been at all interested in public involvement—giving such excuses as "We need to finish the plan and don't have time for public input" and "We already know what residents want."

So, even more than a year ago there was this artificial urgency—"too little time to include the public"—just as there is today. But this hastiness did more than just keep the public out—it also kept the committee itself from reviewing crucial details of the plan. Let me repeat that: Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee itself was kept out of the review of this key element of the Comprehensive Plan. Crucially, the Committee's membership spent no time discussing the contents of the proposed Future Land Use Map. This map, with its significant implications for Lansing's future development, is the most important part of the entire plan, as all future zoning laws have to be consistent with it. Nonetheless, it was utterly ignored during committee proceedings.

New York State law requires that Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee hold a public hearing as part of its process. Despite my objections and suggestions for alternative dates, Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee scheduled the mandatory public hearing during in the middle of August 2016—a part of the summer that ensured that not only much of the public, but also many members of the committee itself, would be unable to attend. Little information was shared during this hearing anyway, beyond the process itself; meeting attendees were expected to familiarize themselves with the plan's content on their own, as preparation for the meeting.

At the following meeting, Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee decided not to review or discus public comments and concerns submitted by residents who'd managed to attend the hearing. With no discussion of the public comments, chair Wilcox and the Committee voted to send the draft on to the Lansing Town Board.

The Lansing Town Board then sent the draft to the Planning Board, which was even less interested in public involvement than Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee had been. It undertook a major rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan, but never once held a public hearing on its content and proposed changes.

This omission by the Planning Board violated legal requirements. As a result, the Comprehensive Plan must be returned by the Town Board to the Planning Board for a public hearing, which it must conduct before referring the plan back to the Town Board again. The Town Board will then have to conduct a public hearing of its own before it can vote on the Comprehensive Plan.

Because it is technically illegal to exclude the public to the degree the Town of Lansing has excluded it, the secrecy around the drafting of the Comprehensive Plan has considerably slowed its completion—even though, for nearly two years, Lansing Comprehensive Plan Update Committee's Chair has insisted there's been "no time" to include the public.

The question I keep hearing from Lansing residents as I canvas for a position on the Town Board this fall is, "When is there going to be a public discussion of the content of the proposed Lansing Comprehensive plan?" It's a good question.

Joseph Wetmore
Lansing, NY