Mercer County Master Plan

SITUATION

Mercer County New Jersey needed to update their Master Plan.  A county master plan builds on the current location of homes, businesses, roads and open land, and describes intentions for future growth and preservation. Mercer's Master Plan no longer reflected reality on the ground or provided relevant guidance for development.  Weiss Consulting joined forces with a local smart growth and regional planning organization, Regional Planning Partnership, to help Mercer's planning professionals update their Master Plan.

RESULTS

We created and led a planning process that allowed stakeholders to contribute to a meaningful concept plan that articulates choices for balanced growth.  Stakeholders identified locations for residential and commercial development, road and transit investment opportunities, and links among natural open spaces.  The concept map becomes the basis for continuing group conversations with municipalities, to vet locally relevant details of the County Master Plan and local implementation.

Significantly, the process generated a county-wide regional perspective that was embraced by people who typically advocate only their local municipal perspective.  We provided a structure for lively and constructive public engagement, bridging jurisdiction lines.  The County planning experience became a highly creative conversation among partners with mutual concerns.

WEISS CONSULTING APPROACH      

Mercer County used an innovative process based on the Regional Action Plan (RAP) model.  A RAP balances three regional systems - economy, transportation and environment - and incorporates factual analysis and political choices.  The Mercer County process was very data intensive and was conducted in a compressed timeframe over four months.  It quickly established a base concept plan that will be vetted and developed in greater detail over the next year.  
 
The County wanted to take a "big picture" regional perspective and try to find consensus on county growth goals.  They engaged Weiss Consulting and Regional Planning Partnership to conduct a series of public dialogues as a prelude to the formal decision process.  Officials and residents from anywhere in the county could advocate for their local interests - while working for the good of the entire county.  By balancing local and county perspectives, coherent aligned action could emerge.

We designed and conducted three public stakeholder meetings that guided participants through a planning sequence.  These meetings were highly interactive and 'charrette'-like, utilizing large printed maps, push pins, colored markers, and visual illustrations of centers, roads and green spaces.  The first meeting identified county assets, agreed on measures of progress and located centers where growth could reasonably take place.  The second meeting detailed housing and employment types and discussed implications for roadway, transit and environment choices.  The third meeting focused on opportunities and constraints for linkages among centers, transportation and environment. 

We benefited by convening an advisory group who represented a microcosm of key stakeholder groups.  They attended 'rehearsals' of the larger meetings and improved the entire process with their insight, sensitivity and the reality check of their layperson perspective.  In addition, as they realized this process was legitimate they became "ambassadors" for the process and encouraged their peers to participate.