By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester is perched on the edge of diving into a possible yearlong endeavor to put the city under a microscope and develop a comprehensive plan to guide it into the future.
According to Development Director Lucas Haire, the document is a long-range plan intended to direct the growth and physical development of a community for 10 to 20 years and can incorporate individual studies such as city parks, downtown, and thoroughfare plans into a single document.
“It gives you a way to justify the decisions you are making and allow everyone to be on the same page,” said Haire during an Aug. 30 public hearing. “It allows the community to identify factors shaping the community outside of your control. It evaluates how competing interests can be balanced.”
According to Haire, the plan helps build a consensus and commitment from elected and appointed officials, residents, staff, and stakeholders, which he says are important aspects of a comprehensive plan.
“It provides guidance for future decision making and continuity,” said Haire, who said the plan needs to be implementable and clearly identify who is responsible for enacting the parts of the plan.”
Typical components of a comprehensive plan include outlining existing conditions and demographics in setting a baseline; a future land use plan, which, unlike a zoning map, is only a guide; a thoroughfare plan for vehicles, pedestrians and transit; parks and open spaces; a utility master plan; economic development plan; and implementation and strategies.
“Obviously, we’re a fast-growing community,” said Haire, who added that the likely next step is to take feedback and create a Request for Proposal for a company to work with the city and community in creating a comprehensive plan. “Hopefully, we get a consultant late this year or early next year.”
With a limited amount of time before the council moved on to its Aug. 30 Committee of the Whole meeting—a full house in town hall, overflow space at the community center, and after council members shared their thoughts—a handful of residents were able to comment on the proposed plan.
Councilman Chuck Milliken said a comprehensive plan is a fluid document that can be updated as necessary over time. Councilwoman Jill Amos said electronic commerce is big right now, but questioned if the industry will be just as sustainable in the future.
“You need to look at economic diversity, not just one industry that puts a lot of eggs into one basket,” said Councilman Pat Lynch, who wants less pavement and more greenspace and tree canopy. “We’ve done a great job diversifying over the years and I want to continue that.”
Councilman Bob Clark said his hope and wish is the city looks into what can be done to be more job competitive and Councilman Will Bennett recommended Canal Winchester align its plan with larger regional plans.
“Some of the challenges we have are lands that are not in our borders,” Bennett said. “What happens when our neighbor’s vision doesn’t match ours?”
Haire said the city’s comprehensive plan needs to consider neighboring jurisdictions and work with them in determining what they want for their communities.
“Twenty years ago was the last time something like this was attempted,” said Councilman Mike Coolman. “To get everyone on the same page, we have to start with square one; maybe a foundation starting point. What are we going to need moving forward? The Arena District is strong because they have the infrastructure in place. What does it take to do something like that? I would like to see what the economic plan would be for developing a foundation. I would love to see a Columbus State campus here.”
When the floor opened for public comments, Brandon Hord said it was critical for the comprehensive plan to be a collaborative endeavor.
“Canal Winchester is at a crossroads,” said Hord. “Development is occurring at a breakneck pace. Tonight, we begin the process of regaining control over our city’s future. I hope the plan has accountability built into it. I hope the planning process provides us a backbone.”
Ashley Ward said she would love for the plan to include a diversity of businesses and urged the city to consider hiring a full time planner.
“We can do better and we want better,” said Ward, who suggested a survey in determining what citizens want. “It is important for the development plan to have some teeth to it.”
Other speakers wanted less focus on warehouse development and more on improving the quality of life, slowing down the pace of growth, reaching out to local social media organizations and more connection with people.
Canal Winchester Chamber of Commerce Chairman Denise Mathias said in representing Canal Winchester businesses, she would like to see more support, along with more transparency.
Haire suggested for those unable to voice their comments during the hour-long hearing and for residents who want to provide their input on the proposed comprehensive plan, there is a comment form on the city’s website that will be available until Sept. 7.