SIDNEY — Changes to Sidney’s downtown, neighborhoods and travel connectivity were the major themes presented to interested citizens and public officials at the third and final public forum held at The Historic Sidney Theatre on Thursday night.
The gathering was led by Glenn T. Grisdale, and Emil Liszniansky of Reveille, a Bowling Green-based consulting firm. Information compiled over the last year through previous meetings and the online public survey will inform the updated comprehensive plan for the city. The city council revisits the plan every five years.
Grisdale and Liszniansky summarized the nearly 1,000 responses gathered so far from a cross-section of Sidney citizens, including high-school students, for the forum’s 17 attendees Thursday night.
“You really cannot afford for things to be the same in the next 20 years,” Grisdale said, as he pointed out Sidney has mostly the same issues as it had in 1978.
Grisdale said transition is “possible and can happen,” but it doesn’t happen overnight, so action needs to begin now.
He noted that responses have indicated that downtown Sidney suffers from a lack of entertainment and eating and drinking facilities; lack of uniform store hours; insufficient retail diversity; insufficient promotion of downtown; parking, and issue comprising location, signage, aesthetics and excessive walking distances for shoppers; lack of cooperation among merchants; poor image and poor store facades; lack of patronage by county residents, and to some extent, city residents; and poor pedestrian systems, like wayfinding and use of alleys.
Grisdale shared residents have said people got used to driving out to the shopping centers near the interstate while the downtown was closed off for a period of time and it may take time to draw residents back to downtown, but creating a revitalization district downtown may be key. The district is a bounded area established to “help to build synergy” by offering entertainment, culture, retail and restaurants.
A focus on helping neighborhoods thrive is an important theme for Sidney. Grisdale said Sidney has a “stunning” amount of foreclosures and many deteriorating properties, mostly in the downtown area.
He said Sidney has “great pockets of great neighborhoods here; people take pride in their homes, great historic assets in this community,” but it needs to make sure people “play by the rules” to rebuild it’s neighborhoods.
“If you don’t have good neighborhoods, you don’t have good people,” said Grisdale.
Discussion ensued after Comprehensive Planning Committee Member Bob Eck questioned whether the suggestion is to dictate to property owners or incentivize them to maintain their properties.
“I worry about the unintended consequences of making rules and laws,” said Eck.
In response, public officials expressed frustration with the growing number of abandoned and dilapidated homes, and questioned how best to make people accountable.
“What used to be a $100,000 home in downtown is now on the market for $60,000, strictly because that house is still well kept. But however, every house around it is not being enforced to maintain some sort of reasonable upkeep. That’s not fair to people who invest money into this city, and not fair to our city, who collects funds from that, because it lowers it every year … because we are getting laxed about it and not telling people, ‘You don’t have the right to lower my property taxes,’” said Sidney Alive Executive Director Amy Breinich.
Creating a better way for people to get around and connect to downtown, the bike path or water trail, was another significant theme for change in Sidney that was discussed, as well.
After a traffic analysis was conducted by Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), a plan was created to reduce the stretch of state Route 47 near Wilson Health leading into the downtown district from a four-lane down to a two-lane road. There has been several accidents on this roadway, caused from people speeding while passing other vehicles, and so the aim is to reduce lanes and the speed from 45- down to 35-miles per hour and place bike paths along both sides of the roadway.
This change seemed to surprise several attendees. Eck questioned if the public, and the fire and police chiefs were aware of the coming change. Community Services Director Barbara Dulworth said officials were aware of the change, and if they saw an issue with it, they would have already made it known.
Liszniansky said streets, bike-ways, and waterways are ways to draw in tourists. He said creating better walkways and paths to schools, parks and downtown, and to capitalize on the four interstate exchanges are ways to get and keep people here.
Grisdale recommended promoting Sidney by beautifying its gateways into the city and with the use of banners. He said change takes time, but communities that work the best understand that they must find and work from a plan.
“You’ve got the bones of greatness here in Sidney … Doing small things in a great way; small little things,” Grisdale said is the best way to build and inspire change.
The Comprehensive Plan survey can still be accessed at www.sidneyoh.com, and will remain available through Nov. 15.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.