By Lauren Zaepfel
A community forum was held Monday night at the Town of Niagara's Calvin K. Richards/Youth Activity Center to gather resident feedback for developing the town's new comprehensive plan.
The process includes, "basically developing a blueprint for the town to operate moving forward," Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee Wallace said.
John Steinmetz, founder and principal of Steinmetz Planning Group, said, "Our goal here is not to tell you what is good or bad for Niagara, our goal is to find out what you want your community to change and become over time and then try to help you get there."
Steinmetz listed benefits of having a comprehensive plan, including that it "represents a statement of policy and priorities," for the Town of Niagara.
He said once the town has a plan in place, it could help increase chances of receiving more state or federal funding for projects.
He explained many New York state grant applications ask for a resolution, stating a plan was adopted in the last five years, "So to be the most competitive you can be for grant funding, you want to have a comprehensive plan."
The last time the town developed a compressive plan was in 1972, when the median age of town residents was 23, compared to today's median age of 45, Wallace said. In some ways, the shift in age changes how the town should look at some of its operations, he explained.
In the '70s and '80s, Steinmetz said communities tended to be more concerned with infrastructure.
"The newer generation (of) plans addresses and deals with those things, as well, but they address other concerns," including community character, health and wellness, and other non-construction-related issues, he said.
To get a better idea of what the community would like to see happen in the town, residents were asked to complete a survey where they viewed more than 60 images and rated them based on the level of appeal. Photos depicted samples of other communities' streetscapes, landscapes, residential developments and commercial businesses.
When asked about their preferences, most residents raised their hand in favor of having more space in between individual homes in residential areas. The majority of residents in attendance also indicated they preferred the businesses with more residential characteristics.
Afterward, residents were divided into two groups and asked to brainstorm positives and negatives, as well as opportunities and threats they felt were applicable to the Town of Niagara.
"Based on the feedback we got today, clearly housing (is) one of the main issues, because both groups (of residents) talked about housing options for seniors and for young people," Steinmetz said.
He added, "Even though there's been a lot of senior housing (being built) in the state and over the country over the last 20 years, there's still a need and desire for more - and different types."
Although feedback also suggested a need for housing catering to younger people, Steinmetz said, "The one thing that we did not hear (was), 'Well, young families need housing.' It seems like that might be satisfied, but young people who don't have a family yet and may want a walkable community and a smaller-type, more diverse housing living arrangement, that's currently not really offered."
He said one of the main positives he heard about the town was its parks and recreation offerings.
"Clearly, they're very proud of this park (Veterans Memorial Community Park). And they think the parks and recreation services are key strengths to the town," Steinmetz said.
He added, "People love the park and, clearly, it's a source of pride for them."
He said the main goal of the community forum was to gather "public input. We try to develop plans and codes with communities, not for communities. ... I mean we have our own ideas ... but you never know, what we think might be important, might not be important at all."
The next step of the process is to "go back and actually put pen to paper" to work on developing the plan, Steinmetz said. In the meantime, he said he and his staff will meet with the town's comprehensive planning committee members several times.
One major topic to be discussed as part of developing the comprehensive plan will include updating the town's building codes, as many regulations are outdated and counteract each other, Wallace explained.
If all goes as planned, a public hearing on a comprehensive plan for the town could take place sometime early in 2018, Steinmetz said.