Facilitating Improved Community Planning in Falmouth, Maine

CBI conducts a stakeholder assessment, engaging community members with interviews, surveys, and forums about land use planning; produces a final report with specific recommendations for improving land use planning in Falmouth; and helps the Town Council implement the recommendations.

Background and Challenges

Falmouth, an affluent suburb of Maine's largest metropolitan area, had a sophisticated and complex land use management system, including progressive conservation ordinances and a plethora of voluntary boards and committees. The complexity of this system often left stakeholders confused and frustrated with the land use planning, review, and permitting processes. Furthermore, in 2008 Falmouth had recently undergone a period of personnel conflict and staff transition, which raised questions about the appropriate roles and responsibilities of those involved in the permit review and approval processes.

CBI was asked to help streamline these processes and help Falmouth improve its approach to land use planning and community development.

The CBI Approach

CBI assesses stakeholder concerns about land use through interviews, surveys, and a public forum, and synthesizes their findings in a final report with specific action steps for the town.

CBI conducted a broad assessment of stakeholders’ opinions on land-use planning through advisory committees, confidential interviews, and and on-line surveys. By first forming a volunteer Stakeholder Advisory Committee, CBI built key local support for the initiative and engaged with three Town Council representatives, eight citizen volunteers, and three town staff members on a regular basis. CBI then conducted confidential stakeholder interviews and administered a qualitative web-based survey to better understand stakeholders’ views of Falmouth’s land use processes. CBI spoke with 35 key stakeholders during confidential interviews and received Web Survey responses from 130 individuals.

After conducting this broad assessment, CBI facilitated a public forum in which stakeholders could discuss their concerns, values, and visions for their community. The public forum not only gave the public a chance to voice new ideas, but it also allowed CBI to better understand tensions surrounding local land use issues and to gauge stakeholder's perceptions of the town's current processes.

CBI shared their findings in a final report which recommended specific actions the town could take to improve their land use processes. The final report discussed best practices for sharing information; comprehensive planning strategies; the roles and responsibilities of key planning departments, boards, and commissions; processes for reviewing applications and permits; and monitoring and evaluation. CBI also recommended 16 specific steps that Falmouth could take to improve its land use and community development processes. The report was presented to the Town Council at a public hearing.

Results

After CBI facilitates a retreat for the Falmouth Town Council to create an implementation plan, the town implements many of the recommendations and continues to consult with CBI.

After presenting the report to the town, CBI facilitated a strategic planning retreat during which the full Town Council worked to create a plan for implementing the recommendations.

By facilitating this retreat, CBI helped Falmouths' decision-makers create a realistic plan for revising and implementing short- and long-term improvements to the town's land use and community development systems. Six months after the retreat, Falmouth had implemented many of the recommendations. Falmouth continues to consult with CBI on collaborative planning processes.

Photo credit: Flckr Creative Commons/daniboi1977