Council, planners hold joint session

Published 10:11 pm Thursday, June 21, 2012

Members of the City Council and Planning Commission named transportation, managed growth, and a utility system that is simultaneously aging and growing among their chief concerns on Wednesday.

The two groups held a joint work session on Wednesday to kick off the review of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

With the city’s consultant, Gregory Dale of McBride Dale Clarion, guiding the discussion, the 16 public officials listed their concerns and wishes, pointed to success stories in Suffolk and neighboring jurisdictions and learned about the next steps needed for the review of the plan.

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The process is expected to take 18 months and be conducted in five phases. Some of the phases will overlap, Dale said.

He also provided a clearer picture of how the public will be able to interact throughout the process. An advisory committee will be formed and meet approximately seven times, according to an outline of the process he presented. This committee could have anywhere from 12 to 25 members, he suggested, and should hold public meetings with public comment periods.

“It gives us a broader perspective on a community,” he said. “It’s the first level of public outreach.”

In addition, two public meetings will be held in the second and fourth phases of the process, he said.

After Dale asked the group for its concerns and success stories, several themes emerged as the officials took turns speaking around the table.

Many of the officials pointed to Harbour View as the city’s biggest success story. Planning Commissioner Donald Mills went outside the city and chose the Chesapeake Square area. Others, including Mayor Linda T. Johnson and Councilman Mike Duman, thought the city’s growth corridors, particularly Godwin Boulevard, were worthy of mention.

But Planning Commissioner James Vacalis, the former city manager, said he wants growth focused on urban development districts.

“I’d like to see growth center around those, and not go up and down every corridor and every street in the city,” he said.

In the list of concerns, the usual suspects popped up — transportation chokepoints, particularly Route 58; the utility system’s need for repair and expansion; a waste management plan; and a way to pay for it all.

Nearly everyone was concerned about the need for smart growth, a major focus of the Comprehensive Plan.

“We know if growth gets out of hand, it affects every part of the city,” said Planning Commissioner William Perry.

The group also talked the city’s strengths — plenty of land, recreational facilities, a strong comprehensive plan already in place and more.

“There’s no shortage of thoughts and ideas,” Johnson said.

Closing the meeting, Planning Commission Chairman Howard Benton said the city has come a long way.

“We’re thankful for where we are,” he said.