By Polly Keary, Editor
What do you want Monroe to be like in 20 years? Do you want another park? What streets will need to be wider? Where should big apartment buildings go? What land should be left undeveloped?
If you want to have a say, this year you will have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to do so.
The city is preparing a huge update to its Comprehensive Plan, and they are looking for citizens to help them decide what to put in it.
“We’re trying to write the book that’s going to make the regulations and determine how the city is going to grow,” said Planning and Permit Manager Paul Popelka.
The project is expected to take a year and a half to complete. It has about 10 extremely in-depth chapters, each outlining the city’s goal for a specific area such as traffic, land use, housing and parks, and the strategy the city plans to employ to achieve that goal.
The plan looks ahead 20 years, and is updated every 10 years. The current update is due in 2015.
The first thing the city has to do is develop employment and population targets for the next 20 years. Once they’ve figured out about how many people are likely to want to move here, and how many jobs the city should have available for residents, then they need to inure out the best strategies for attracting those jobs, and the best ways to make sure there’s enough housing and services for all the new people.
That could mean changing zoning to allow for higher-density housing or for job-creating industrial uses. It could mean expanding Monroe’s borders to make room for more people. And it could mean expanding the sewer system or building new streets to accommodate growth.
The ultimate goal is to balance inevitable growth and change with preserving the quality of life of the city.
Quality of life, though, means different things to different people.
So in order to make sure that the city is working off the wishes of the residents, the city has developed a number of ways for citizens to share their thoughts on the city’s future.
One way is to attend the “Envision Monroe” workshop planned for Thursday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Park Place Middle School.
Another is to go to envisionmonroe.mindmixer.com, where there is a survey. People can post photos there of the things they love most about the town, or the things they think need attention. And they can answer a series of questions about how important different things are, such as preserving open space, providing safe transit options, supporting diversity and so on. There is also a space to provide general comments. On the website, it’s possible to see who else is commenting, to see comments left by others, and also to leave comments yourself.
There will be more workshops in coming weeks as well, said Popelka.
And eventually the consultants who are assisting the city in the process will rent a downtown storefront and hold an ongoing workshop where people can drop in.
By the time the process is complete, there will have been a lot of workshops, some of them very intense, many of them on specific topics such as traffic.
Thursday’s meeting is focused mostly on land use and traffic. Land use means what land around the city should be zoned for what uses. Should it be okay to mix business and residential in your neighborhood? Would an apartment building be okay there? Or would it be okay to let people subdivide lots and add second houses there?
And traffic includes transportation issues.
The consultants assisting the city have already conducted a number of interviews with local people, and will share what they’ve learned.
“The first part of the meeting is going to be hearing from the consultants on what they have found so far and what some of the projections are for growth, and then they are going to have some hands-on exercises to talk about the vision,” said Popelka. “It’s going to be very much a group effort. There will be table exercises, and sharing information and working toward some kind of community vision.”
Popelka, who has had a long career working in city planning, said that this is his favorite part of his job.
“I like this vision stuff,” he said. “It is the most interesting part. This is when people say, ‘this is my dream.’ Then how do we write the plan and make it happen?”