Two years ago, the Watertown City Council finally decided to authorize a blueprint for the community’s future.
At that point, the city was one of about eight municipalities in the state not to have completed a comprehensive plan. In June 2017, council members informally agreed to move ahead with a proposal to chart growth for the next generation.
During a presentation at that time, city planner Geoffrey T. Urda offered an excellent example of a comprehensive plan: “A long-range policy document that guides the location, design, density rate and type of development within a community over a 20- or 30-year time frame.”
The lack of a comprehensive plan has hampered municipal operations and economic development. So proceeding with this idea was long overdue.
City staff members in the Planning Department have been busy since than drafting such a document. They have been holding meetings to solicit public input on the comprehensive plan, and two will be held this week. The first one is from 3 to 7 p.m. today at Northern New York Community Foundation, 131 Washington St., and the second one is from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Italian American Civic Association, 192 Bellew Ave.
“These two sessions will follow up on a previous round of open houses held last winter,” according to a story published Saturday in the Watertown Daily Times. “The comprehensive plan is a citywide policy document that will guide future decisions related to land use, transportation, economic development and much more. The public can ‘drop in’ and spend as much or little time as they would like at each station during the two open houses. The city is working with consultant Elan Planning, Saratoga Springs, to lead the planning process for the comprehensive plan.”
In June 2017, Planning and Community Development Director Michael A. Lumbis said the comprehensive plan would cost about $200,000 to prepare. Mark C. Walczyk, who served on the council at that time, said this estimated price tag concerned him.
Yes, that’s a lot of money. And Mr. Lumbis said the city must hire a consultant to assist with the work.
The more important issue, though, is what it costs the city every year to not have a comprehensive plan. What opportunities are lost because officials can’t refer to such a document when deciding where to allocate city resources?
The good news is that city received $90,000 in December 2017 to offset its expenses. The money, which came from the state’s Consolidated Funding Application with a 50 percent matching grant, was awarded through the north country’s Regional Economic Development Council.
It was essential that the city begin the process of creating a comprehensive plan. Such documents also are often cited in grant applications; they carry weight in deciding how to allocate grant funds.
Now that city planners have undertaken this project, it’s incumbent upon residents to do their part. We strongly encourage people to attend the meetings this week to provide the necessary feedback.
We all have a stake in how the comprehensive plan is drafted, so let’s continue this discussion by bringing our ideas and questions. Advancing the good work that’s already been done will require all of us to make the effort.