Following a year of court battles, the future of the Plano Tomorrow Plan remains unclear after an appellate court ruling last week. The fight centers on the city’s comprehensive, long-range land development plan and unhappy Plano citizens who feel their opinions on the matter went ignored. The plan, they say, describes a city completely unrecognizable to its long-time residents.
“The whole plan is terribly flawed,” said Ed Acklin, when asked about Plano Tomorrow. Acklin is running for Plano City Council Place 4 (Mayor Pro Tem Lissa Smith, whose term comes to an end this year, currently occupies the seat). “The city it describes is not — and never will be — Plano.”
Long-Term Residents Set on Preserving Suburbia
The Dallas Morning News reported on early criticism of the plan in October of 2015, describing its designation for “Neighborhood Centers” as of an ‘urban mindset that are more often associated with apartments than single-family houses.‘
At its core, the Plano Tomorrow Plan hails urban centers as the ideal future for Plano. If planned right, these would be mixed-use urban neighborhoods, much like Uptown, Mockingbird Station and Deep Ellum in Dallas, that combine working, shopping, eating and living — often in multifamily residential housing — into one place.
Commercial centers within walking distance of established Plano neighborhoods – at first blush, it sounds like a progressive, sustainable vision for the city’s future. Only, it’s not what many Plano folks signed up for. Urbanization could also come with another 40,000 to 60,000 residents, an unappealing prospect for some. “If I wanted to live in an urban environment, I’d move to downtown Dallas – or New York City,” said Acklin. “But I chose to live in suburbia. Plano is a very nice city and we want it to remain a suburb. The Plano Tomorrow Plan won’t do that.”
According to The News, proponents of the plan, like Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere see the evolution of Plano as inevitable.
“Plano is gonna change whether we have a plan or not. What we’re attempting to do is provide a frame and a guideline so that we steer our city to stay consistent with who we are today,” LaRosiliere said.
Beyond the plan’s controversial, and in some circles, bitterly unpopular reception, the city’s handling of the ensuing criticism further fueled citizen anger.
Years of Conflict
The city presented Plano Tomorrow in 2014, after significant input from residents via surveys. On October 12, 2015, Plano City Council voted 6-2 in favor of the plan. By the following month, the opposition, led by Elizabeth Carruth and a group called Plano Future, submitted a petition to the council with over 4,000 signatures, asking the plan be put to referendum. But Plano City Secretary, Lisa Henderson, who would later be named in a suit against the city, chose not to submit the petition. Petitioners balked. The city’s charter provides for a vote, they said. But the council refused to acknowledge the petition. It claimed the issue pertained to a zoning ordinance and not subject to a citizen vote under Plano’s charter.
Acklin called the refusal, “an error in their thinking.” The feud then turned legal. In February 2016, Carruth and four others filed a lawsuit to compel the city to suspended Plano Tomorrow and the reinstate the city’s 1986 strategic plan.
A ‘Win’ but for Whom, Exactly?
On Feb. 24, 2017, the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruling dismissed claims against the city and council members and declined to require the city to suspend the plan.
In a statement on its social media accounts, the city referenced the ruling as a win.
The Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas has dismissed claims against the City of Plano and City Council members. The lawsuit asked the court to suspend Plano Tomorrow, the City’s comprehensive plan, replace it with the 1986 comprehensive plan, and require City Council to call an election. The court dismissed those requests. The appellate court also ruled Thursday that a State District Court has the authority to hear the case involving a petition calling for a referendum on the Plano Tomorrow plan. The question of whether this petition is valid has not been decided.
City Staff will be briefing City Council members Monday to consider the next step in this ongoing process.
While the ruling did not order the City Secretary to present the petition, a trial court could. Which sounds like a win for Carruth and her supporters.
In a letter from Carruth’s attorney, Jack Ternan called for the city secretary to submit the petition. “It is time for the City Secretary to do her job and present the City Council with the petition calling for a referendum on the Plano Tomorrow Plan,” he wrote. “There is no reason to continue to expend public funds on litigation, and it is time to give the people a vote on the Plano Tomorrow Plan.”
If Secretary Henderson now decides to present the petition, the council must either repeal it entirely or proceed with a referendum. But it remains to be seen whether a court order will eventually compel Henderson to take that step, or whether the city will choose to spend more time and public money fighting its own citizens.
Meanwhile, as the city plans its next legal moves, zoning changes under the plan continue legally. And residents continue to fume.