JEFFERSON — An open house Tuesday afforded citizens an opportunity to visit with coordinators of a proposed City of Jefferson Comprehensive Plan that emphasizes, among other concepts, strengthening of economic development.

For the past six months, Jefferson residents and officials, along with staff from the engineering firm of Vandewalle and Associates, have been working to update the Jefferson Comprehensive Plan.

The plan is intended to guide the growth, development and preservation of Jefferson for the next 20 years and is based, in many areas, on an existing plan.

The open house was the latest step in a series of public-participation events. As part of the process, the city conducted a community workshop in September to help people understand the public vision for the future of Jefferson. Meetings and plan updates also were held with the common council, Plan Commission and Redevelopment Authority.

Vandewalle became involved in the process in July, with its more concentrated efforts beginning in August, according to Meredith Perks of Vandewalle, the lead author of the document.

Jefferson hosted the public open house to ensure the draft plan represents the opinions and desires of Jefferson residents. Perks said she and her colleagues were pleased with the turnout, which numbered about 20 people over the course of one hour.

Perks said the proposed comprehensive plan, which is 109 pages long with 36 pages of appendices, is being designed based on the city’s preceding plan, which has offered a good foundation. She said Vandewalle and city officials, such as Mayor Dale Oppermann and City Administrator Tim Freitag, also have been receiving solid direction from residents and members of city government, including the Plan Commission and city council.

The plan addresses issues and opportunities; agricultural, natural and cultural resources; land use; transportation; utilities and community facilities; housing and neighborhood development; economic development; intergovernmental cooperation and the plan’s implementation.

A substantial portion of the plan is highlighted by economic development programs and recommendations.

When the plan is adopted, the city would pursue redevelopment and infill of underutilized lands. Potential redevelopment projects include the city hall parking lot, Riverside Alley, the former Tyson Foods site, and downtown streetscape and alley improvements.

The city would continue to promote downtown as the focal point of the community, with a mix of uses including increased opportunities for people to live downtown. Recreational opportunities downtown would be fostered.

From an economic development standpoint, the plan recognizes the value of having Jefferson’s city and Jefferson County’s governmental headquarters downtown. The plan stated this creates a “civic core” to the community that would be beneficial.

In terms of entertainment opportunities, the plan states, “Downtown entertainment venues provide a destination for people to enjoy themselves outside of their homes and workplaces. The city should support entertainment uses such as restaurants, taverns, coffee shops and music venues. These uses can also provide customers for other businesses in the downtown area.”

Addressing commercial and retail opportunities, the plan says, “While the mix and concentration of businesses has changed over the past decades, reflecting national trends of many retailers moving out of the central business district, downtown still offers a unique, advantageous location for many businesses, including specialized retailers.”

The plan acknowledges that the Jefferson Redevelopment Authority, city, county, and other strategic partners should continue to play an active role to facilitate business recruitment and retention. Areas of focus should include providing continued outreach and assistance to new and existing businesses; building entrepreneurship capacity and business planning; establishing a business mentoring program; recruiting developers and tenants; and facilitating opportunities for businesses to self-organize and co-market.

The plan recognizes that parking will be be a challenge to achieving increased activity in the downtown.

“As individual sites redevelop, careful consideration should be made for parking facilities, including number, location and accessibility of spaces, as well as shared parking opportunities,” the plan says. “’Walkability’ should be encouraged and easily facilitated within the downtown.”

Other concepts addressing economic development include creating a downtown and riverfront corridor overlay zoning district, adoption of stronger design standards for commercial and industrial development, retaining and expanding local businesses, recruiting new retail businesses, capitalizing on the Jefferson County Fair Park and ensuring high-quality development at interchanges.

“We’ve had a lot of good feedback,” Perks said following the open house. “The proposed plan is being built off the existing plan, and we were really happy with what we heard from the public and members of city government. Their comments have been very useful.”

A public hearing on the final draft of the document tentatively is set for Jan. 7. The Plan Commission and common council then will consider the plan that evening. The final step is approval by the common council.

“The process of creating the plan has been smooth,” Perks said, adding that guidance from various sources in the city have paved the way for a solid and usable document.

“During the last 15 years, the city’s population has slowed to a stable level, and this presents both opportunities and challenges,” Freitag said after the open house. “The city desires to increase the pace of growth and return to historic trends of stable, sustainable population growth, with a balance of residential and non-residential development. As a result of this goal, this new comprehensive plan has a greater focus on economic development objectives and implementation strategies.”

Freitag said, however, the plan goes toward enhancing the community’s authentic, small-town character, with another goal being attainment of a high quality of life that is accessible to all community residents.

“This (high quality of life for all) remains at the heart of the city’s vision for the year 2040,” Freitag said.

The plan will be available at the end of November on the city’s website, after it enters its third and final draft.

For more information, contact Perks at Vandewalle & Associates at (414) 988-8632 or Freitag at (920) 674-7700.

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