Small Victories: A Public Participation Save in South Cheyenne

SCCDA Public Meeting, November 2012

“You can’t save everybody / Everybody don’t want to be saved” –Kieran Kane

Everybody agreed the unincorporated community needed attention. The County Comprehensive Plan had highlighted concerns with increasing density in the area just outside city limits. The City Comp Plan had acknowledged the community’s vision as “an attractive, semi-rural neighborhood”. The State Rural Development Council had performed a community assessment in which local residents had identified the need for beautification, planned growth and infrastructure development. There had been a history of antagonism in the neighborhood, but no reason to suspect this project would be different from any other neighborhood plan when the local Metropolitan Planning Organization committed to do a corridor plan along the US highway south of town.

Fast forward to the summer of 2012. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle headlines declared “Highway Plan Angers Residents, Businesses”. People in the South Cheyenne community outside the state capital were up in arms. Two years before, the Cheyenne MPO had initiated the South Greeley Highway Conceptual Corridor Plan and hired a pair of consulting firms to undertake the process. The general public and area stakeholders had been invited to participate, current conditions analyzed, visions framed, policies and strategies shaped, and action steps prioritized. The end product was a professional plan based on demonstrated needs and na- tional best-practices…. which were roundly rejected by a vocal public, and ultimately the County Commissioners.

Making Lemonade out of a Plan Lemon

Rather than point fingers and assign blame, then-County Planning Director Gary Kranse, AICP (who has since passed away) picked up the gauntlet and offered to assist in drafting a community-based plan. South Cheyenne is an unincorporated area of about 7,800 population, which had developed along US 85 in a piecemeal manner with a combination of residential, commercial and industrial development. The County Commissioners handed responsibility for the project to the South Cheyenne Community Development Association (SCCDA), a non-profit organization with representatives of the neighborhood, and asked the City, MPO and Wyoming DOT to participate in a re-boot of the project.

Critics had focused on a couple issues, in particular access management and condemnation. Medians were taken off the table immediately, although the issue of traffic conflicts was left open, and it was made clear any actions would be voluntary with the utmost respect for private property rights. The fact was, none of the participating public agencies had money to spend to implement the plan, so it would be by nature up to private development to see changes made.

The SCCDA held public meetings at the local community college, organized by the Coun- ty Planning office, over four consecutive weeks in January. At each meeting, community members gathered around map-covered tables with a staff member recording comments. Participants identified location-specific concerns and general issues in the corridor. They also discussed portions of the consultants’ plan and their questions about data and typical solutions offered. County, MPO & DOT staff summarized comments and SCCDA volunteers drafted a short (8-page) plan, which the Laramie County Board of Commissioners adopted on 18 June 2013.

IAP2 Public Participation SpectrumPoints on the Public Participation Spectrum

The resulting plan is unlikely to win any awards, not even a STaR award. It’s short and to the point. The most important thing is it achieved community buy-in from those who participated. Community members expressed a great amount of distrust in out-of-state consultants—they had been part of the process, but had not felt ownership of the process. This point subsequently came out even more vehemently in 2014 when the City of Cheyenne and Laramie County up-dated their joint comprehensive plan. The most professional plan doesn’t do much good without trust from a broad spectrum of the community.

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) has developed a Public Participation Spectrum, which identifies an increasing degree in which the public is involved in policy and projects.

  • Inform: provide balanced and objective information
  • Consult: obtain public feed- back
  • Involve: work directly with the public
  • Collaborate: partner with the public
  • Empower: place final decision -making in the hands of the public

The adopted plan referenced the consultants’ detailed data and maps, but focused on the issues that concerned community residents and business owners. While it may not implement nationally-recognized best practices, it does represent an empowered community. It certainly begs the question, how can we better design projects that balance the need for high-quality professional analysis while also achieving the highest degree of community participation?

It is too soon to evaluate any specific impacts of this plan; however, one of the SCCDA members who worked on the projects has since been elected to the County Board of Com- missioners.


(Re-posted from Small Town & Rural Planning Winter 2015 newsletter of the APA STaR Division.)


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