Can you imagine Belleville in 2035?

News-DemocratApril 9, 2014 

— Goals in the city's draft comprehensive plan includes Belleville growing its population by 10,000 in the next 21 years, extending Illinois 15 to St. Louis and attracting mixed-use development near MetroLink stations.

Consultant group Kendig Keast Collaborative worked with the city for the past year on a plan titled "Imagine Belleville 2035."

The plan reflects how community members would like Belleville to grow in the next 20 years and recommendations on how to achieve those goals.

The City Council, Planning Commission and Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee had a joint meeting Wednesday night at Fischer's Restaurant to give feedback on the draft plan and share their priorities.

Residents and other stakeholders attended a similar event Tuesday at The Abbey.

What are some of the highlights?

* The city's population is expected to grow to about 50,629 people in 2030. The 2010 Census had the city's population at 44,483.

Gary Mitchell, vice president of Kendig Keast Collaborative, said he does not put much weight on the projection past a few years because it's a projection affected by many factors and has to be routinely evaluated.

The number, however, does take into account the city losing some growth momentum because of the recession, so things could pick up, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the city's growth rate, about 0.5 percent per year, is moderate. A high growth rate would be 3 percent to 4 percent per year, Mitchell said.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden said he would like to see the city's population reach above 50,000 because it would qualify the city for certain federal grants available only to cities of a certain size.

* City leaders discussed ways to attract new residents and visitors, and attract and help businesses.

Liz Probst, associate planner with Kendig, said some of the ways include drawing a hotel or convention center, an aquatic center, transit-oriented development, improve marketing and working with Scott Air Force Base.

Mayor Mark Eckert said "becoming a town with a university is a new twist" that will bring more young people to town.

Eckert said the city has continued to reinvent itself, from being the stove manufacturing capital and a town with multiple breweries to being a shopping mecca -- and will continue to do so.

City officials agree the city needs to address housing issues, namely how to balance providing affordable housing to young professionals and those who can't afford homes with concerns some residents have about rental housing.

"Not everybody can buy a house and not everybody is wants to live in single-family housing," said Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony.

* Strengthen neighborhoods and empower residents and community groups to collaborate and take action.

"This is so positive," Gloria Crowder, president of the 17th Street Corridor Neighborhood Association, said of her participation in the planning process. "We are moving. ... This is what Belleville needs."

Father Achilles Karathanos of Ss. Constatine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, a resident in the west end of Belleville for the past two years, said he wants to see other parts of the city model neighborhood projects after what is being done in the Signal Hill area, such as building a community garden.

Karathanos, too, sees housing availability as an issue and suggested the city work with groups such as Habitat for Humanity to build homes for people of all income levels in a sustainable way.

What next?

The consultants and city will finalize the plan in the next few weeks and the city likely will adopt the new plan in June. The plan will serve as a guide for growth in the future.

For more information and to share your thoughts on the draft plan, visit www.imaginebelleville.com.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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