Belleville OKs $193K for new 20-year plan; Eckert calls it 'road map' for the city

News-DemocratJune 26, 2013 

— The City Council on Wednesday approved up to $193,542 to update the city's comprehensive plan and the project will kick off next month.

Aldermen voted 13-1 at a special City Council meeting to contract with Kendig Keast Collaborative to oversee the creation of a 20-year plan, "Envision Belleville 2035," for the city.

Mayor Mark Eckert said a comprehensive plan serves as a "road map" for the city.

Businesses interested in investing in Belleville want to know information such as where the projected growth is, what amenities residents want and how the city is focusing its resources, according to Emily Fultz, the city's director of economic development and planning.

Gary Mitchell, vice president of Kendig Keast, said the plan will outline goals and implementation strategies that rely heavily on input from residents. The plan will also be a snapshot of what the city looks like today, what the problems are and how the city can address those issues.

The process should take about a year. Kendig Keast plans to have a draft of the plan for council to review by July 2014.

Alderwoman-at-large Lillian Schneider voted no. Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult and Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby were absent.

Schneider said she voted no because $193,000 is a lot of money to spend in this economy. She said the money is better spent on addressing existing problems.

Instead of creating a new plan, the city should continue working on goals outlined in the existing plan, such as having an ice rink or city pool, Schneider said.

The existing comprehensive plan, available on the city's website, is from 1998-99 and outlines the city's goals and growth through 2020.

Jim Kurtz, chairman of the Planning Commission, stressed that the plan is a living document that has to be updated.

Fultz said, for example, the city reached a goal from the city's old plan: filling what is now the Lindenwood University-Belleville campus. But fulfilling that goal creates a new set of challenges: How will the city grow that area now?

Kurtz said Lindenwood students want to establish a fraternity, but city ordinances do not yet address such housing issues. An updated comprehensive plan will identify such issues so the city could work on finding solutions.

Belleville resident Michael Hagberg said during public participation that the city shouldn't spend money on consultants when the city's staff is qualified to update the existing plan.

The city's budget this year includes $150,000 for a comprehensive plan, with $50,000 from the general fund and the rest distributed evenly among the city's tax increment financing districts. The remainder of the total project cost will come from the 2014-15 budget.

The project cost includes payments to Belleville-based Kaskaskia Engineering Group for engineering elements of the comprehensive plan, and MindMixer for civic engagement and polling work.

Planning Commission members and city staff interviewed three firms before deciding to negotiate with Kendig Keast.

The Planning Commission approved a contract with the firm on Tuesday.

Planning Commission member Chris Rothweiler said he recommended Kendig Keast because they submitted an application that was tailored to specifics in Belleville, including issues such as old housing stock and an aging population.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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