PITTSBURG — The Crawford County Commission hosted a work session Tuesday with representatives of the firm Olsson Associates to discuss a land development plan the firm is working on with the City of Pittsburg, but did not reach any agreement with Olsson to expand that plan to include the county.
“The City of Pittsburg has the long range goal of producing a citywide comprehensive plan,” said Brian Coomes, a civil engineer with Olsson Associates, “and so as a first step to that process they want to develop a citywide land use planning document as a baseline and then build upon that as they work towards a whole citywide comprehensive plan.”
Coomes said Commissioner Jeremy Johnson and Troy Graham, zoning and floodplain administrator for the county, who also attended Tuesday’s work session, had sat in on some of the discussions about Olsson’s involvement in the city’s planning efforts to see if there could be opportunities for “joint planning efforts between the city and the county.”
Olsson’s study “really just focuses on Pittsburg’s city limits,” said Coomes, “but what we’re here to talk about today is options to perhaps add on to this project while we’re here doing this work, and take a look at areas adjacent to the city or even further out within the county.”
Ken Boone, director of Ochsner Hare & Hare, a division within Olsson, participated in the work session through a conference call.
Pittsburg city officials “thought there was some synergy we could have if we looked at some areas in the county or portions of the county and how that fits with what was going on directly in Pittsburg,” Boone said. “And so we were asked to look at two things: one, a two-mile boundary, a growth boundary around Pittsburg, and then to look at the southeastern quadrant of the county as a whole, and what that might mean if we folded in looking at either one of those into the land use plan we were doing in Pittsburg.”
Boone said the county might be able to save money on its own planning efforts by contracting with Olsson while the firm is working with Pittsburg on its plan.
“We’re going to be doing research, we’re going to be doing mapping, we’re going to be doing analysis, and to add these additional areas, while quite large, onto Pittsburg’s study, we still get some economy of scale simply because we’re doing all that stuff at the same time.”
County commissioners, however, had some reservations about joining Pittsburg in hiring Olsson.
“I see how the City of Pittsburg benefits from this,” said Commissioner Tom Moody. “Can you tell me how does Crawford County benefit from it?”
Boone said the area within two miles of Pittsburg that the city is discussing in its planning effort “certainly impacts the way that you deliver services, the way that the county residents are in the future going to interact with Pittsburg as a whole, and whether Pittsburg actually grows into that area or how long it takes for them to grow within that boundary.”
Moody asked Boone if there had been any discussion with the City of Frontenac. Boone said there had not, but they would be reaching out to the city, which Moody said would be a good idea.
Moody also asked if coordinating with Olsson and Pittbsurg on a land use plan would “be laying the groundwork for future annexation.”
Commissioner Johnson said Pittsburg will inevitably be growing, but it will only make sense for the city to annex land into the city limits “if there’s a strategic reason for it, and not just swallowing up large swaths like an entire two mile buffer or something like that.”
County Zoning and Floodplain Administrator Graham said the county could potentially benefit from having a land use plan.
“I don’t think it’s negative to have a plan,” he said. “The city’s got areas now that they’ve annexed, you know, east of town years ago that still don’t have the needed infrastructure that they need for those areas.” Graham said, however, that there are limits to where Pittsburg can expand considering the presence of Frontenac to the north and natural environmental barriers such as floodplains.
Moody said he could see where a land use plan would be handy.
Coomes said the purpose of the stakeholder engagement process that Olsson is going through with Pittsburg has the goal of finding out what the local community wants to see in terms of development, rather than allowing the city’s administration to dictate the plan.
Boone similarly said Olsson’s goal was to help the local governing bodies and their citizens create a “roadmap for decision making” by reaching consensus.
“Ultimately it’s not our plan, it’s your plan,” he said. “So if we don’t get buy-in, then it’s just going to sit on a shelf and nobody’s going to do anything with it, and that’s just a waste of money.”
In response to a question from Moody, Coomes said the City of Pittsburg intends to proceed immediately with developing its land use plan.
Commissioner Bruce Blair said that “what Pittsburg’s doing makes sense for figuring out portions of Pittsburg that they’ve got to figure out what’s going on,” but he didn’t “see the benefit for the two-mile buffer or the southeastern quadrant at this time” given that the county has to do a comprehensive plan covering its entire area by 2022.
Regarding the two-mile buffer, Blair said, “whether it is or isn’t, the perception is this is a step towards annexation,” and he opposed doing a land use plan prior to the comprehensive plan for the whole county. “I can only imagine the vision engagement meetings if we did that two-mile buffer,” he said.
Moody also said he had received several calls from constituents with concerns about annexation, and echoed Blair’s concerns about unnecessarily duplicating work.
“If we do have to do this in 2022, our whole comprehensive plan, you know I hate to take the county taxpayers’ money and do something twice,” Moody said.
In response to these concerns Boone said Olsson could customize a plan to better fit the county’s needs.
“We could craft a different kind of planning document that addresses your critical needs that could piggy-back on some of the community engagement stuff we’re doing but not necessarily have a parallel track with what’s going on in Pittsburg, to meet your needs better if your needs are different than, you know, ultimately wanting to get to the same place Pittsburg does, which is an overall comp plan,” he said.
“A county’s issues are way different than a city’s issues in some areas, so we recognize that and can certainly work with you on that.”
Commissioner Johnson said that if the county commission doesn’t join the city in developing a land use plan “then Pittsburg is going to dictate what that looks like” and those with concerns about annexation and similar issues will end up excluded from the process.
“So whether that happens now or later or whenever, I think that that’s going to be important to include public input from people that don’t live in Pittsburg,” Johnson said, adding that doing the plan now might save the county money.
Coomes asked that even if the county decided not to contract with Olsson for its own planning process, that county officials participate in Pittsburg’s.
Graham said he could follow up on the discussion by putting together some information on planning issues the county is facing to present to the commission.
Boone and Coomes both said Olsson and city officials could keep Graham apprised of developments in Pittsburg’s planning process.
“There’s a lot to think about,” Moody said towards the end of the work session. “We appreciate you coming and any help we can be we certainly want to be a part of, but as far as us entering a contract, right now I think that we still have a lot to think about.”