What do you want the city of St. John's to look like 10 years from now?
That's one of the questions people will be asked when the city starts holding public consultations about a new municipal plan in the new year.
At a city planning committee meeting last week, director of planning Cliff Johnston handed out a document that plots the steps needed before a new plan can be developed and adopted. There's also a timeline to make sure the process stays on track.
Johnston cautioned councillors at the meeting the plan must be completed within 18 months or risk losing the momentum garnered from the public meetings, which should begin in late January or early February.
While the provincial Urban and Rural Planning Act requires a municipality to hold public consultations when developing a new plan, all councillors at last week's meeting stressed the process needs to be as transparent, open and inclusive to the public as possible.
According to the document Johnston presented, a municipal plan is council's "officially adopted set of policies on how land in a community should be used and developed."
The framework document says a plan deals with zoning, where new services such as roads and water mains need to be built to accommodate growth, which parts of the city will grow before others, and provide a legal basis for zoning regulations such as lot size and building height restrictions.
Johnston said much of the empirical information the city needs to start work on the plan is already available, and the review can be largely conducted in-house.
The first step is for staff to write a background report which would be completed early in the new year and be made available to the public before consultations begin.
While that's going on, an advisory group will be formed to co-ordinate the rest of the process.
Johnston recommended the advisory committee be five to seven members and include representation from the business community, community groups, the construction industry, Memorial University, housing advocates and general citizens.
Many wanted to expand that group to include a voice for youth, seniors, those with disabilities and the arts community, among others.
But Johnston cautioned against making the advisory group too large so it stays on focus.
In late January, the city plans to hold a mayor's symposium to introduce the current municipal plan and outline the rest of the process towards a new one.
From February to May of next year, a number of additional public forums will be held on city-wide issues, as well as several neighbourhood specific forums to deal with issues specific to areas of the city.
Some of these neighbourhood meetings will be based on current ward boundaries, while other areas such as the downtown will have a dedicated meeting.
The city also plans to use social media to engage people who can't or don't want to come to public meetings to get as much input from people as possible.
A draft of the new plan will then be compiled by city staff over next summer, with more public meetings to discuss that draft scheduled for September and October 2012.
A final draft should be completed before next Christmas.
The provincial Department of Municipal Affairs will then weigh in on the plan in early 2013 and once it gives the green light, council will the vote to adopt the draft plan.
From there, an independent commissioner will conduct a final public meeting and prepare a report on people's opinions and possible concerns.
The commissioner will then write and present a report to council before it takes a final vote to adopt the new municipal plan. That should happen in March or April 2013.
While provincial regulations state a town or city must review its municipal plan every five years, St. John's defered its review of the 2003 plan in March 2008 until the province had completed its regional plan for the Northeast Avalon.
However, council voted in May of this year to rescind that decision and to begin work on a new plan, as it's still unclear when the province will complete its regional plan.