During its first meeting on updating the city’s strategic plan, Warsaw Common Council discussed transportation issues, more communication with the county, sewer lines and bringing “fun” businesses to the downtown while recognizing those that have long been established.
A second meeting for the council to continue talking about the strategic plan is scheduled for 5 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1 in the conference room of the city hall.
“I’ve asked the planning department to go through the exercise today. I’m very appreciative of (City Planner) Jeremy (Skinner) and (Assistant City Planner) Tim’s (Dombrosky) efforts in getting everything prepared,” Mayor Joe Thallemer said in kicking off the meeting, noting that all the councilmen had information previously sent out to them.
The strategic plan was first put together in 2012 with American StructurePoint after Thallemer and some of the council were first elected to serve.
“We’re going to get into really looking at that and seeing how certainly things have changed, how they probably will continue to change and then hopefully come up with a reasonable consensus of if we’re still heading in the right direction or if there’s some alterations, minor or major, that we need to make to the plan,” Thallemer said.
Skinner reminded the council that with the 2012 strategic plan they developed six goals and objectives for each of the goals. The six goals are growth management, business retention and expansion, business attraction, supporting a vibrant and stable downtown Warsaw, communications and processes, and neighborhood revitalization. With each of those goals, Skinner touched on what has been completed and what the city currently is working on.
Over the last four years, he said some of the things that may have impacted the city’s goals and objectives include the U.S. 30 coalition, the Warsaw Chemical fire, storm sewer fee and other issues, sanitary sewer issues such as capacity, housing including low- and moderate-income, and increased rail traffic, safety issues and connectivity.
After going into detail about each of those, Skinner then opened the meeting up for each councilman to participate as they evaluated the six goals, starting with growth management. The goal is to “develop and preserve Warsaw in a sustainable way that is designed to provide for the needs of the community now and in the future.”
City Councilwoman Diane Quance questioned whether the city could talk about growing when there are still areas that don’t have connection to sewer and water and some places don’t have sidewalks. Skinner said the city deals every day with some properties not having those.
Councilman Jerry Frush said he was talking to someone the other day on the east side of town within city limits whose home is over 30 years old and who is on a septic system. Some day those older septic systems will “go to pot,” he said. Most lots are too small by today’s standards to have septic systems. “If they start going bad, are we going to be able to provide sewer to them?” he asked.
Jeff Grose, councilman, asked how well the city was communicating with the county on what they’re doing. He said he’d like to see the city communicate more with the county as to “what they’re doing, what we’re doing.”
Thallemer said the short answer was that the city has a very good relationship with the county and they work well together. “But it seems like what you’re talking about is joint planning,” Thallemer said, and Grose agreed.
Clerk-Treasurer Lynne Christiansen mentioned that the City of Warsaw also had a good working relationship with the Town of Winona Lake.
Councilman Mike Klondaris said, “I want to bring something up I feel is really important and it really hasn’t been mentioned anywhere in this document, in this conversation and I think it affects item number one, growth management, item number two, business retention, item number three, business attraction – that is the airport. As the city continues to grow in that direction, that airport is going to become hemmed in. We need to do everything we can do to preserve enough space so that the airport can continue to service the businesses that we have and expand to provide more services in the future. I’m talking the big picture – 50 years, 100 years out. We need to try to do everything we can to acquire as much land out there as we can.”
He mentioned that The Dells subdivision wouldn’t be allowed out there today if it wasn’t already. Quance informed him that The Dells is in the county, not the city.
Thallemer said Klondaris had a “very, very valid point” and that the city was purchasing property out there as it becomes available for that “exact reason.” He said it was a high priority that the airport sustain its viability.
A little later, Klondaris also mentioned the traffic flow in town “seems to get worse all the time.” Skinner said transportation – the rail system, airport, traffic flow, sidewalks – and looking at how it all connects and the city addresses it may be a new goal for the strategic plan. Thallemer said the city utilizes the expertise of the Michiana Area Council of Government, which is a “gateway for transportation issues.”
Christiansen said it seems like downtown Warsaw has lost a lot of businesses. The Seward Johnson statues are returning to the downtown this summer, but when they were here about two years ago, she said people would walk around the downtown looking at them while eating ice cream. Now the downtown doesn’t even have an ice cream parlor.
Cindy Dobbins, councilwoman and Warsaw Community Development Corp. executive director, said there needs to be a way to recognize the existing downtown businesses but she has struggled to find a way to do that. Klondaris said the city can offer tax abatements and has tax increment finance districts to bring in businesses, but generally it’s “hard to be in business” especially for the small ones.
Skinner said the city has incentives but hasn’t “done a lot of programs.” Dobbins said the city might need to do more to accomplish the business retention and expansion objective. Skinner said the city does have the First Friday and Shop Local events to help bring people downtown.
Thallemer said the city does rely on collaborations with organizations like KEDCo, WCDC and the Chamber of Commerce – which is important – but at some point if there’s a concern to address, maybe the city needs to create programs that are “city-centric.” Dobbins said the city doesn’t want to duplicate programs the other organizations already have, but maybe it can “fill in the gaps.”
After nearly two hours, it was decided that further discussion was needed as the meeting didn’t cover all of the goals and objectives. Another public meeting was then scheduled to continue the discussion.
(Story By The Times Union)