Belleville's future: City plan addresses problems, offers solutions

News-DemocratJune 21, 2014 

— A year-long process to develop a comprehensive plan that will guide the city's growth for the next 20 years culminated this week when the City Council unanimously approved "Imagine Belleville."

Those who worked on the plan told city leaders that even though they adopted the plan for the city, nothing happens automatically. The plan is meant to give city leaders a longer-term perspective and guidance on how to tackle issues.

Council members plan to meet soon to discuss how to put the plan's recommendations into action.

Emily Fultz, the city's director of Economic Development, Planning and Zoning, thanks everyone who was involved in the planning process.

"Whether you attended meetings or participated online, you helped shape this plan and the direction of our community for the next 20 years," Fultz said.

City leaders worked with Kendig Keast Collaborative since last June to create a plan that shows what the city looks like today, draws input from residents and identifies problem areas and makes suggestions on how to address these issues.

The council approved $193,542 for the project.

The comprehensive plan gathered input from a website, www.imaginebelleville.com, which had 170 active participants. The average participant was 47.8 years old.

Fultz said the group also: held four listening sessions and six public meetings; talked personally with numerous people, including students; and had multiple advisory committee meetings and planning commission and City Council workshops.

Gary Mitchell, of Kendig Keast, lauded Belleville's plan and said it will be nominated this year for the Illinois Chapter of the American Planning Association's Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan.

Fultz further explained the comprehensive plan process and findings here, in her own words:

1. What are some of the key topics residents think are important for Belleville to progress in the next 20 years, such as mobility and housing?

Mobility and Housing are two key sections of the plan. Other sections include Infrastructure, Economic Development, Land Use and Character and Implementation.

It's very difficult to say which is the most important because each plays such an important role in our community. The plan must be thought of in a holistic way.

The plan is also an action-oriented document that must be reviewed and amended as necessary. The plan calls for a biannual review process with more substantial amendments typically taking place every five years.

2. How does this plan compare to the one in the past?

"Imagine Belleville" is similar to the last plan in terms of addressing and making recommendations on topics such as mobility, infrastructure and housing.

Since the city completed so many of the last plan's recommendations, a new 20-year vision, as well as goals and objectives that support that vision, were necessary.

As such, there is no simple list of findings, but rather strategic recommendations and action steps for each topic. A few of the key recommendations are:

* Increase Belleville's capacity for desired growth.

* Systematic street improvements.

* Prioritize and implement the most essential housing and neighborhood projects and programs.

* Grow, diversify and expand businesses from within the community.

* Improve the appearance, quality and compatibility of existing and future development.

3. What are your recommendations going forward to try to keep the plan updated and get council to pass legislation that follows what the plan recommends?

In order to begin implementing the plan, we must begin to look closely at our ordinances and make amendments to those ordinances where necessary.

The plan recommends specifically updating our Zoning Code and Subdivision Code so that they support other recommendations from the plan. These two codes are some of our best tools in implementing the plan.

Also, developing a capital improvements program (CIP) will support plan implementation. A CIP is a multi-year plan, typically five years, that identifies budgeted capital projects, including street infrastructure; water, wastewater and drainage facilities; parks, trails and recreation facility construction and upgrades; construction of public buildings; and purchase of major equipment.

Identifying and budgeting for these major capital improvements is essential to implementing this plan. Decisions regarding the prioritization of proposed capital improvements should reflect the policy and management directives of this plan.

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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