Over the years there have been a number of attempts through some sort of economic development group. Studies were done- some free, some paid. None actually made any noticeable difference until this committee began in Jan. 2006. Perhaps the difference is the timing, the fact that it is an officially sanctioned committee of the city. Like the Parks and Recreation Committee, it does not make final decisions, only the city council has that authority. But it makes recommendations to the council based on considerable study and, as a result, has been successful in its efforts.
Change and decisions from lay people through the governmental maze is often slow and frustrating. To give direction the city contracted with Don Burt, who had previously been in charge of Medford’s downtown urban development.
The seven member committee’s first assignment was to define the scope of the downtown area. Some wanted the area to extend out to the highway and to include Linn Road. After considerable discussion, the area was refined and defined. Projects such as a vision, goals, assets and challenges were discussed and often found to be much the same as had been defined in previous studies.
The goal was to develop a Town Center Plan. And with the Town Center finally defined, the center was divided into five areas. Initially they were called: Old Town, Westside Neighborhood, Napa, Southside and Old Mill. Even some of those names changed over time. And they became: Old Town, Southwest Village, Napa, Creekside and Hillside District By February 2006, it became clear the committee needed to focus on a small downtown area and the area within a half mile of downtown. So the various areas were adopted. Again, after much discussion, it was decided one of the first visible changes that could be made would be to put up new street signs with the area names and an identifying color for each. That project wasn’t terribly expensive, but took considerable time.
Burt helped with discussion on everything from sidewalk width, to proposals on building heights, the mixture of rentals above retails or other businesses in the Old Town (Main St.) area, amount of window space, bringing new businesses flush to the sidewalk area, improving the use of alley space and considerable time was spent on parking.
One thing that was discussed but avoided, was setting a downtown theme.
The hanging petunia baskets was another early project. The first year it was almost entirely paid for by the city. This year the city budget precluded their participation and it became an Eagle Point Chamber of Commerce managed project.
The Town Center Plan was approved by the city council in September 2008. The multi-page booklet contains eight chapters:
•Chapter 1- Introduction
•Chapter 2- The Planning Process
•Chapter 3- Assets & Challenges
•Chapter 4- The Plan Area
•Chapter 5- The Policy Framework
•Chapter 6- The Concept Plan
•Chapter 7- Goals & Policies
•Chapter 8- Implementation
“Any planning process is only as valid as the ability to translate ideas, policies, goals and objectives into actions,” begins Chapter 8 of the plan. There are five key elements to successfully guide the Town Center Plan. They are:
I. Identify a lead organization to spearhead implementation and identify supporting partners.– In this case, it is the city, the council, staff, committee.
II. Identify key actions and develop a realistic timeframe for implementation of those key actions.- A list of 36 was developed and prioritized.
III. Create a set of benchmarks by which to measure progress and success. – This involves periodic assessment, sometimes mid-course changes or adjustments. It was recommended that this list be reviewed annually. It has been just over a year since the plan was approved along with the prioritized action items, so review time could well occur soon.
IV. Create a process for ongoing review and update.- The overall plan is a very long range plan. Much changes over 20-30-or 50 years. A five year update is essential and should review the overall vision, add new goals and strategies to make the document and plan a living document.
V. Develop funding sources for priority projects and programs.
The first item and the only item with the highest priority was the adoption of the Town Center Plan as part of the city’s comprehensive plan. The goal was 2006-07. It was adopted in September 2008.
Next on the list are zoning issues. This list includes design standards and criteria that includes parking, architecture, setback and floor ratio for the Old Town District consistent with the Town Center Plan. Modify zoning to provide historic preservation. Fourth on the list was the Napa District, followed by Southwest and Creekside, all to go through a process such as is to be done for the Old Town Distrifct.
These projects involve the city and property owners.
While much of the work done by the Economic Development Commission has been involved in process, planning and paperwork, their work is producing some results.
As previously noted, street signs and petunia baskets are the two most noticeable items. But a number of items will change the community over time. The committee studied and recommended a bed and breakfast ordinance for the city, which the city council adopted. Most recently many details involving a streetscape were approved by the council. Some of this has direct bearing on the current changes on Main Street.
Involved in the streetscape are plans from the Economic Development Commission. These included 2×2 scored sidewalks at the Royal and Platt intersection and replacement of trees. Some of the changes have been more immediate as a result of federal stimulus dollars that are responsible for the repaving of Main Street and replacing many curbs, gutters and sidewalks. Other streetscape plans approved by the council include details such as downtown benches, tree grates, trash receptacles, lights and drinking fountains–all to come at a later date.
Recently the economic committee felt they had done about all they could with the town center at this point and are looking, with council approval, at the zoning on Linn Road with an eye toward improving that entrance into the city; looking at possibilities for the small park area at the corner of Royal and Main that once housed a gas station; a possible pathway along the creek from Mattie Brown to Butte Creek Mill and a better designation of Veterans’ Park.
These new challenges and updating their current action plan will keep the committee of seven that meets only once a month busy. Seldom does anyone from the general public attend these meetings, although they are certainly open. The commission meets the first Monday from 5-6:30 p.m. in the council chamber.
By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent