City wants input: What should Belleville's future look like?

News-DemocratSeptember 14, 2013 

Veteran's Memorial Fountain in Belleville.

— The city of Belleville heard from community members this week on how they would like to see the city grow in the next 20 years.

At four open houses and online, those who live, work and play in Belleville started to shape a new "Envision Belleville 2035" comprehensive plan for the city.

"We asked for input on Belleville's recent accomplishments and missing pieces right now to make sure we're on the right track in developing the plan," Belleville Director of Economic Development and Planning Emily Fultz said Friday.

Attendees jotted down, on poster paper, what they view as the city's accomplishments. The new dog park, Art on the Square, Lindenwood University expansion and Belleville Crossing were a few of the items mentioned.

Attendees also were asked to name ways to make the city more prosperous, safe, active, attractive and revitalized.

Some said the city would benefit from having a splash pad, a family center, miniature golf, developing the Illinois 15 corridor or connecting bike paths. Some said the city could do with less rental housing while others wanted more affordable yet upscale housing options downtown for young professionals.

The discussion of the comprehensive plan has allowed some residents to revitalize issues they've previously rallied for, such as the opening of a public swimming pool or raising hens for eggs.

At least 40 people attended the four open house sessions and more than 100 people have signed up to use the website during the year-long planning process.

The website, www.imaginebelleville.com, went live Tuesday. Those who did not attend the open houses can still participate online.

"The conversation that's happening there now is very similar to what happened at the open houses," Fultz said.

Fultz said topics on the website will evolve as the city and consultants move through different chapters of the comprehensive plan.

For example, website visitors have another 50 days to discuss "Belleville's Top Accomplishments" before commenting on that section of the site is closed. Future forums will be on subjects such as growth and infrastructure, land use, housing and economic development.

"People should continue to check back on the website because we'll change and add topics all the time to keep the conversation fresh," Fultz said.

The website also allows users to sign up for email notifications whenever a new topic is posted or when others comment on an idea.

The next set of public engagement events will be in November, and the public will also get to weigh in again in the spring before the plan is completed in June.

Consulting group Kendig Keast Collaborative will compile and later share the results of the open houses. The events were held at Althoff Catholic High School, Blessed Sacrament School, Programs and Services for Older Persons and Union United Methodist Church.

Here's a sampling of the ideas given so far:

* Roger Wigginton, 64, believes the comprehensive plan should focus on more short-term goals. He said elected officials should set goals to accomplish during their terms of office because they might not be around for the duration of a 20-year plan.

And, Wigginton said the state of the economy almost dictates that the city has goals only five to seven years out.

"You can't bank on having the money," Wigginton said.

* Rick Ortiz, 47, said historic buildings should be preserved downtown because it's where the real character of the city is. Every building downtown has its own set of challenges, so city leaders should be flexible and patient in finding new uses for historic buildings, including the Meredith Home.

* Ortiz's daughter, Emily Ortiz, 14, said she would like to see a downtown grocery store and other teen entertainment centers similar to The Edge in the downtown area.

Emily said downtown has a lot to offer, with the YMCA, festivals and stores to shop, and she feels safe walking downtown now compared to her dad's memories of downtown 10 years ago.

* Joan Braswell, 69, says she wants more nursing home options, especially ones where seniors live in clusters of four to five people instead of 16 or more "so it feels like home."

Braswell said continual growth and maintenance of downtown, the streetscape and historic areas are why people visit Belleville.

"It's a historic town -- that's why people come here," Braswell said. "And we can start to put Belleville on the map as a dining destination."

* Braswell's brother, David Braswell, 66, said downtown Belleville would be more attractive, and safe for pedestrians and motorists, if the city replaced some of the traffic lights with stop signs.

He said the traffic signal cables are not aesthetically pleasing and stops signs at these intersections would give the area more consistency: South Third and West Washington, South High and East Washington, South First and West Main, and South High and East Main.

* Larry Betz, 61, of the Belleville Historical Society, said the city needs a landmark ordinance the likes of Chicago to preserve and maintain historically significant buildings.

"Somebody has to be watching out for our heritage," Betz said.

He also believes a city the size of Belleville should have an arts center that could have galleries and serve as a presentation hall for the city's philharmonic.

* Maureen Morris, 64, said the city should have a municipal court system to handle property violations. She also discussed the city enforcing zoning laws to strengthen single-family home ownership.

* Elizabeth Wissbaum, 60, said she would like the city to organize a mediation and conflict resolution program to address adult bullies in neighborhoods. She said the city could model such a service on the anti-bullying campaigns in schools.

Wissbaum said she doesn't live downtown, but it would be convenient for residents there to have a grocery store and other residential services, such as a Laundromat.

"It'll help me when I'm running errands downtown and it would be a boon to downtown, period," Wissbaum said.

Wissbaum also wrote down a suggestion for the city's proposed crime-free housing ordinance. She said the requirements should also apply to homeowners -- and not just renters -- because homeowners also need to be responsible for crimes and city ordinance violations on their property. Next to her idea, someone wrote "Ditto."

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

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