Year of the Plan hits halfway mark
New Richmond City Administrator Mike Darrow set some ambitious goals for 2014 when he dubbed it as the “Year of the Plan,” and as the year hits its six-month mark he took time to look back at what has already been accomplished and what is still to come.
Back in January, New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne gave credit to Darrow for creating the Year of the Plan mantra.
“Projects come up out of the blue, and I think it was Mike who suggested we take a year off,” Horne said. “Rather than the council picking some projects to do, let’s take a year off and listen, and hear what people have to say. Rather than making a jump, why don’t we plan our next move and be somewhat proactive. It was great advice.”
At the June 9 City Council meeting, Darrow provided a quick briefing of an extensive memo detailing more than 20 of the year’s major highlights, including a zoning and subdivision ordinance rewrite, the city’s newly unveiled Park Plan, progress on a five-year financial management plan, a capital improvement plan, the new library building project and much more.
The following week, while speaking with The News Darrow emphasized the fact that much of the Year of the Plan work has been due to the passionate in-house efforts of city employees rather than from hired outsiders.
“We’re doing a lot of these things internally, and that’s such a credit to the group of people who work here,” Darrow said. “You couldn’t do this in a lot of other communities. A lot of communities just get the consultant to do it.”
Darrow cited the Doughboy Trail and the Park Plan as examples of city employees taking on work that other cities may have hired consultants or contractors to complete.
“The only way we’re able to be successful in the Year of the Plan is because we have some of the hardest working staff of any municipality around,” Darrow said.
The ambitious project of rewriting the city’s entire zoning and subdivision ordinance became even more ambitious when the city opted for an ordinance that was form-based rather than use-based. Landform, a multi-disciplinary consulting firm, is working with city staff to develop the ordinance. The final version will include a lot of user-friendly graphics and help streamline the development process.
Because the new zoning code will be such a departure from what the city currently uses, Darrow said that city staff, Plan Commission members and alderpersons would require training to ensure it is appropriately implemented and enforced.
The final zoning ordinance is expected to be completed and approved by the council this summer after the community gets a chance to offer input at an open house.
Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt, who was hired late last year, took the spotlight early this summer when the city unveiled the Park Plan it had been working on for months.
The 61-page document outlines general information about the city’s park system and includes two pages for each of the city’s 25 parks. Each entry has photos of the park, a satellite image of the park, and listings including the park’s address, size, classification, existing amenities, history and opportunities for additional amenities in the future.
“To address the community needs statement of that plan, we’re going to be doing independent surveys of park users this summer,” Darrow said.
In addition to the Park Plan, the city is also working on improvements at the Mary Park boat landing and an expansion of the Hatfield Park campground.
Loose plans to build a new city library have been in the works for more than a decade, but Darrow hopes things will begin to firm up after a June 30 joint meeting of the New Richmond City Council, the New Richmond School District Board of Education, the New Richmond Library Board and key stakeholders from the Community Commons.
During a City Council meeting in March, two motions were defeated 5-1. One motion was to build a new library at the Community Commons site in the portion of the building built in 1926. The other defeated motion was to build a library in Glover Park at the site where the Friday Memorial Library sits.
The city applied for Community Development Block Grant-Public Facilities funding and Darrow believes the next step is to determine whether there is interest in building a library on the Community Commons site if the 1926 building isn’t part of the equation.
For the first time, the City of New Richmond created an annual report document and released it publicly on its website. The report, which covers the 2013 calendar year, provides a summary of the activities in each city department, with the New Richmond Police Department creating its own annual report.
“When people ask us what we do, this analysis gives us that report,” Darrow said. “It also provides a sort of encyclopedia in the future looking back.”
The city has made significant progress on two new trails in the area near the Willow River dam.
Darrow said the the city intends to finish the Doughboy Trail in August, complete with paving and lighting. The city has hired an architect to help plan and design the John Doar Civil Rights Walk. Darrow said the city will have the plan vetted through a member of the Doar family before starting a campaign this fall to raise funding for the project.
Streets, sidewalks, pipes, power lines
A number of planning projects involving streets sidewalks and the pipes that sit beneath them are currently in the works, according to Darrow.
The city hopes to finish a complete inventory of its sidewalks and the condition they are in by the end of the summer, Darrow said.
In a similar vein, the city is televising a large portion of its water and wastewater pipes to log their condition and determine where repairs and upgrades may be needed in the future.
Though several street projects were singled out for repaving and other improvements, one road project is requiring significant planning from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) as well as the city’s Economic Development Commission. WisDOT has recommended a jughandle interchange to improve safety at the Highway 64/Wall Street intersection, but community planners want to maintain the highway access there to help spur business development.
Darrow is optimistic that WisDOT will look at other alternatives to improve safety at the intersection than the jughandle interchange that would cut off access.
When it comes to power lines, a consulting firm is in the midst of creating an electric distribution plan to provide a guideline to developers and identify electrical phasing plans for future growth.
In addition to coming up with plans that affect residents, the city has developed some tools for itself, including a new employee packet, a board/commission packet and an updated employee handbook.
The city is also working on a five-year financial management plan, an impact fee study, a fleet management plan, a plan for Internet connectivity improvements, and improving its website for both internal employees and for members of the public. A couple website upgrades include the ability to make online payments and the ability to accept online reservations for the city’s campground.