Carrying Out The Comprehensive Plan

Plan Is Of No Value Unless It Is Followed

It is frequently said that American cities, like Topsy, "just grew." Shortly after the year 1900, after a century of painless growth, citizen groups in several cities caused "city plans" to be prepared and published. St. Louis was one of these cities. In 1907 a "City Plan for St. Louis" was produced by the former Civic League. Another notable example was a "Plan of Chicago" prepared by Daniel Burnham for the Chicago Commercial Club published in 1909.

These early city plans had no official status and were not accepted and used by city officials. Only when aggressively sponsored by citizen groups were any of the improvements suggested in these plans carried out. There was no systematic attempt to direct the entire development of the city or to follow a complete city plan.

Because of this failure, and because of the imperative need for preventing haphazard decisions and chaotic conditions in our rapidly growing cities, a second attempt at planning was undertaken by many cities. This consisted of appointing an official city plan commission charged with the responsibility of preparing a comprehensive city plan. It was assumed that the creation of an official plan commission by an ordinance duly enacted by the city council would result in the production of an official city plan and that this plan would automatically be accepted and followed. St. Louis was a pioneer in this second endeavor. An official City Plan Commission was appointed in 1912. (This Commission resigned in June 1915 and was succeeded by the present Commission which was first appointed in October 1915.)

This second attempt to bring about well planned cities met with only indifferent success in most instances. Many of the commissions failed to prepare a complete plan either because of inadequate knowledge and understanding of the work involved or because they were not given funds to carry out their task. A few did manage to secure funds and to prepare a plan but soon found that changing city administrations or indifferent or hostile officials would not accept and follow the plan. There was no means of enforcement. In a few cities, among which St. Louis has been an outstanding leader, plans were prepared and accepted and city officials carried them out over a long period of years with close fidelity. In these cities, however, there is no means of enforcement where the city council or an official in responsible charge of public work chooses to ignore the plan.

To overcome the flaws in this second attempt for effective city plans a third procedure was devised after much study and consideration by the distinguished group of citizens, attorneys, municipal officials and technicians appointed to a nation-wide committee.(The Advisory Committee on City Planning and Zoning, appointed by Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, 1923.). This group produced a model "Standard City Planning Enabling Act." This act provides as follows:

Power to make, adopt and carry out a plan 1. "Municipalities are authorized and empowered to make, adopt, amend, extend, add to or carry out a municipal plan and to create by ordinance a planning commission."
Appointment of Commission 2. "For the appointment of a commission comprised partly of public officials and partly of citizens, the latter being in a majority of approximately two to one; such members to serve without compensation."
Procedure 3. "The city plan commission is empowered to elect a chairman from among the citizen members, shall hold at least one regular meeting each month, shall adopt rules for transaction of business, employ a staff and make expenditures for the conduct of its work within amounts appropriated by the city council."
Commission to Adopt Plan 4. "It shall be the function and duty of the commission to make and adopt a 'master plan' for the physical development of the municipality . . . showing the commission's recommendations for . . . among other things, the general location, character and extent of streets, viaducts, subways, bridges, waterways, water fronts, boulevards, parkways, playgrounds, and open spaces, the general location of public buildings and other public property, and the general loca- tion and extent of public utilities and terminals, whether publicly or privately owned or operated, for water, light, sanitation, transportation, communication, power, and other purposes, also the removal, relocation, widening, narrowing, vacating, abandonment, change of use or extension of any of the fore- going ways, grounds, open spaces, buildings, property, utilities, or terminals; as well as a zoning plan for the control of the height, area, bulk, location and use of buildings and premises."
Matters Considered in Making the Plan 5. "In the preparation of such plans the commission shall make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of present conditions and future growth of the municipality ... including, among other things, adequate provision for traffic, the promotion of safety from fire and other dangers, adequate provision for light and air, the promotion of the healthful and convenient distribution of population, the promotion of good civic design and arrangement, wise and efficient expenditures of public funds, and the adequate provision of public utilities and other public requirements."
Manner of Adoption 6."The commission may adopt the plan as a whole by a single resolution or may by successive resolutions adopt successive parts of the plan . . . before the adoption of the plan or any such part, amendment, extension, or addition the commission shall hold at least one public hearing thereon, notice of the time and place of which shall be given by one publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality the adoption of the plan or of any suchpart or amendment or extension or addition shall be by resolution of the commission carried by the affirmative vote of not less than six members of the commission. An attested copy of the plan or part thereof shall be certified to council and to the county recorder."
Mandatory Referrals 7. "Whenever the commission shall have adopted the master plan of the municipality or of one or more major sections or districts thereof no street, square, park or other public way, ground or open space, or public building or structure, or public utility, whether publicly or privately owned, shall be constructed or authorized in the municipality or in such planned section and district until the location, character, and extent thereof shall have been submitted to and approved by the commission: Provided, That in case of disapproval the commission shall communicate its reasons to council, which shall have the power to overrule such disapproval by a recorded vote of not less than two-thirds of its entire membership; Provided, however, That if the public way, ground, space, building, structure, or utility be one of the authorization of financing of which does not, under the law or charter provisions governing same, fall within the province of the municipal council, then the submission to the planning commission shall be by board, commission, or body having such jurisdiction, and the planning commission's disapproval may be overruled by said board, commission or body by a vote of not less than two-thirds of its membership. The failure of the commission to act within 60 days from and after the date of official submission to the commission shall be deemed approval."

The purpose of this Act was to require public officials to give careful consideration to officially adopted city plans and to establish a systematic procedure whereby an official city plan would have to be considered before any official action could be taken on any matter affecting the plan. One most significant matter is that the plan is, adopted by the plan commission and not by the city council, it having been the conclusion of the committee that adoption by ordinance would "freeze" the plan. By having the city plan commission adopt the plan as a general guide rather than to be officially adopted as a fixed and arbitrary legal instrument it would be possible to keep the plan flexible and dynamic and to meet changing conditions without the necessity of passing various amendatory ordinances for minute changes of detail.

The plan is thus given a certain amount of "stiffness" but retaining nevertheless a desirable degree of flexibility. By requiring a three-fourths vote of the legislative body or other public authority to take action contrary to the plan gives an official status to the plan not otherwise obtainable. This avoids hasty or careless consideration of the adopted plan but in no sense delegates legislative authority to an appointed board.

City planning enabling acts based on the standard model have now been passed in more than twenty states. Official city plans based on this procedure have now been adopted and are being carried out in a large number of cities, including New York City, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Des Moines.

St. Louis is not among these cities. Its city plan is still on a voluntary basis because of the failure of the Missouri Legislature to adopt a modern city planning enabling act. Such an act has been introduced frequently, has met with favorable consideration but has always failed of final passage.

While St. Louis has had a comprehensive plan since 1917, we do not have an official plan as provided for by the Standard Planning Enabling Act. Two of the most glaring instances of failure to consider the city plan are that since 1926 there has been no consistent reference to the City Plan Commission of board bills proposing changes in the zoning ordinance, and the location of the Superhighway was determined without consideration of the city plan. On the other hand it has generally been the custom of the members of the Board of Public Service, all but one of whom or their deputies are also members of the City Plan Commission, to submit proposed public work projects to the commission and its committees for consideration, discussion and recommendation.

St. Louis is a special charter city. As such it enjoys a large measure of home rule. There is no legal obstacle to establishment of an official city plan by an ordinance accepting the provisions of the standard planning act. Such an ordinance permitting official adoption of the present comprehensive city plan is submitted herein. (See Appendix.)

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