City manager gives update on Comprehensive Plan

By Mark Cundiff - Guest columnist

Back in 2016 Mayor Barhorst reported on the city’s efforts to update its existing Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is a long-range plan intended to guide growth and development of our community. It includes an analysis of community assets and recommendations for future actions. It is one of the city’s most important policy documents. The plan is based on public input, planning initiatives, physical characteristics, and social and economic conditions. The update was completed and adopted by City Council in May 2017.

Public participation played an important role in the planning process. Over the 14 month long process, ideas presented by over 1,000 residents in the community were shared with the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. Those ideas, comments, and feedback were then integrated into 10 major themes or areas of focus for the city to use as a road map into the future.

The 10 area of focus include: downtown revitalization, neighborhood revitalization, aggressive property maintenance enforcement, activating the riverfront, promoting pedestrian connectivity, improving public and private partnerships, beautifying the corridors, improving community gateways, heightening community planning resources and ensuring effective community services to support growth and revitalization.

Have a plan in place is extremely important, but working the plan to implement the strategies necessary to achieve success is critical. Since 2017, city staff has been working to implement the plan and focusing their efforts on those 10 major themes. In this article I’ll focus on what’s been happening with the number one priority selected by residents for future attention, downtown revitalization.

The planning stakeholders selected a number of strategies for implementing the plan directives for downtown revitalization. The first strategy involved working with Sidney Alive and other interested parties in promoting downtown development and developing a branding strategy. Sidney Alive presented council with a number of suggestions over the last two years with respect to the downtown.

Some of those initiatives lead to council authorizing wine consumption and possession during The Great Downtown Farmer’s Market, establishment of a Downtown Revitalization District, approval of a special use agreement for downtown events, authorizing a loan for façade improvements on one of the historic structures on the court square, and, participating in the Sidney Alive workshop on downtown revitalization that featured Bellefontaine developer Jason Duff.

We’re excited that one local business owner is taking advantage of the new liquor licenses available in the Downtown Revitalization District. Because these special liquor licenses stay within the district boundaries and are limited to restaurants that have 75 percent of their total gross receipts from food sales, we’re hoping to attract more dining opportunities in the downtown. We’re hopeful that the new Italian restaurant, Tavolo, opening next spring is one of several new dining establishments in the downtown.

But the work hasn’t ended there. Sidney Alive is researching additional improvements to our downtown through proposed Zoning Code changes and the feasibility of establishing a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA). Sidney Alive, the Sidney-Shelby Chamber of Commerce and Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership have also begun exploring the development of a branding strategy and placemaking initiatives. The group recently selected CityVisions Associates to help with local revitalization strategies.

Another plan strategy sought to encourage quality housing opportunities in the downtown area. In October 2018, city staff presented Council with information on creating a Greater Downtown Area Community Reinvestment Area (CRA). CRA abatements provide incentives in the form of real property tax exemptions for owners who renovate existing or construct new buildings in targeted area. The city had an existing Downtown CRA, but the boundaries were expanded in 2018 and program policies were revised to be more applicant-friendly. Individuals interested in learning more about the CRA program incentives available to residential property owners inside the CRA boundaries, should contact the city’s Community Development Department at 937-498-8130.

The Shelby County Land Reutilization Corporation (Land Bank) has also played a very vital and active role in improving the housing stock near the downtown by acquiring and demolishing targeted structures. These “greened” properties are ripe for infill housing development or ownership transfer to neighboring properties.

The last strategy identified in the plan to spur downtown redevelopment that I’ll touch on involves addressing vacant and deteriorating residential and commercial properties. The Vacant Property program put in place in August 2018 has identified 256 vacant properties community-wide. Over half of those property owners identified have been sent notices about the new program and its registration requirements. This program has spurred a number of vacant property owners into taking positive action on the property, either listing by it for sale or initiating needed repairs and renovations.

One of the more notable vacant buildings in the downtown, The Ohio Building, was acquired by the city in April 2017 under an expedited foreclosure process. Work to revive the building began immediately. Asbestos testing and removal was completed and plans were developed for the replacement of the deteriorated roof, which was completed in May. Contractors are currently doing asbestos testing in the basement of the building prior to providing mold remediation services . City officials continue to talk with interested parties about the redevelopment potential of this prime downtown location.

Of course, proactive nuisance abatement and property maintenance goes a very long way with neighborhood housing redevelopment. Poorly kept properties, in the simplest terms, cost everyone more and in some cases become an attractive nuisance for even bigger issues. The city’s code enforcement officer continues to tenaciously pursue 100 percent voluntary property owner compliance when a nuisance or property maintenance issue is identified, but having 100 percent impeccably maintained homes and properties would be even more wonderful!

Downtown revitalization is a long term effort that relies on the strengths of many people, utilizes a variety of talents; it’s a complex process that cannot be accomplished through a single project. But, Downtown Sidney’s potential for revitalization is tremendous, especially with its outstanding historic architecture and pedestrian-friendly environment. Stay tuned for more good things happening in Downtown Sidney!

By Mark Cundiff

Guest columnist

The writer is the city manager of Sidney.

The writer is the city manager of Sidney.