APA Ambassador Leads Florida Students in Mock Council Meeting
The Village of Palm Springs, Florida, celebrated Florida City Government Week and National Community Planning Month with a mock council meeting at Palm Springs Middle School.
APA Ambassador Kimberly Glas-Castro fashioned a public hearing scenario in which a development proposal was under consideration. Forty sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students who are involved in the school's student government participated.
The students played the roles of mayor and village councilpersons, village professional staff, and members of the community as we assisted them through a typical public meeting. They also volunteered to fill other roles, including village engineer, village clerk, concerned resident, concerned principal, enthusiastic resident, Mr. NIMBY, and Mr. Complains-about-Everything.
After a brief discussion about city government and the responsibilities assumed and/or services provided by the city, students learned about the Manager-Council form of government, including the responsibilities of policymakers and the authorities of manager and staff.
Community planning, with a focus on the importance of compatibility of uses, was highlighted as a service of the village.
Glas-Castro, acting as the village's planning, zoning & building director, presented a scenario in which an indoor recreation facility was evaluating two different locations within the village, one near the middle school (along a commercial corridor) and one near the elementary school (within a residential neighborhood).
The mock council and the public were walked through the locational considerations and the proposed site plan characteristics. A PowerPoint presentation displayed aerial maps of the two proposed locations to help with discussion of proximities, such as the proposed location of the main driveway and delivery route across from the school bus loop, and the demolition of existing residences to construct a commercial recreation use in an established neighborhood.
A site plan was presented to illustrate considerations such as: (1) traffic circulation that presents potential conflicts with students walking home from school, (2) placement of the loading zone and dumpster near the perimeter abutting residential use, (3) addition of commercial outdoor lights, (4) and externalities such as exhaust from restaurant facility and late-night noise from patrons.
The students who volunteered to serve as members of the public were provided scripts from which they could read or ad lib as they spoke to the mock council. Comments ranged from concern about traffic and the safety of school children to support for more recreational facilities and family-oriented uses in the village.
One of the students, playing the role of a concerned resident, improvised his part and told the council to "do their job" and protect the interests of the residents, not a developer.
The students assigned to play the parts of the mayor and council also had scripts to give them an idea of what to share during the board's deliberation. Comments ranged from "we need more businesses in the village and can work out minor issues during formal site plan review" to "adding a commercial use in a residential neighborhood is unacceptable."
During council deliberation, other students were anxious to participate in the discussion, too. In the end, the consensus of the mock council was to direct the applicant to focus on the proposed location within the commercial corridor, but to eliminate potential conflicts with the abutting school and residences through site design.
During the debriefing and closing remarks, students were disappointed to learn that a trampoline center was not proposed across the street from their school.
The principal of Palm Springs Middle School observed the mock council meeting and congratulated the students on getting out of their comfort zone and participating in the public hearing exercise. She said she was thrilled to hear that this was an imaginary scenario and not a current development proposal.
As a member of village staff, it was refreshing for me to see the students take a real interest in the development scenario and want to protect their community through the planning process.
Top image: A Palm Springs Middle School student, roleplaying as the school principal, shares his comments during the public comment period. Photo courtesy Kimberly Glas-Castro.