PITTSBURG — On Tuesday, community stakeholders and members of the public attended a “visioning session” at Block22 to begin work on developing a land use plan for Pittsburg.
The session was hosted by the City of Pittsburg and consultant Ochsner Hare & Hare, a division of the Olsson Associates firm, which has an office in Pittsburg. Ochsner Hare & Hare, which is based in Kansas City, sent a team to Pittsburg which will remain in town through Thursday as community input sessions and development of the land use plan continue.
“I think it’s going really well,” said Brittan Brenner, assistant planner for the City of Pittsburg, who helped set up the visioning session. “We’ve had a great turnout from the community,” she said. The Tuesday visioning session was attended by around two dozen people, although a survey prior to the session received nearly 500 responses from community members, Brenner noted.
“We also held a series of small group interviews that went really well,” she said, adding that the city is excited to continue the process and is hoping for a large turnout at the open house scheduled for Wednesday, July 17, from 5 to 7 p.m., also at Block22 at 402 N. Broadway St., to solicit further community input. While there are other times that community members can give input on the land use plan in the next few days while the Ochsner Hare & Hare team is in town, the Wednesday open house will be “the big event,” Brenner said.
Aside from the Wednesday open house and the Tuesday morning visioning session, other aspects of the land use plan development process included “closed studio” sessions, when Olsson employees will work to condense information provided by community members from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday, from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.
A “technical committee” meeting was planned from 2 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, and “steering committee” meetings were planned from 8 to 9 a.m. Wednesday and to close out the process from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday in the “final concept review” stage of developing the land use plan.
The steering committee consists of “20 to 30 community members across all sectors of work in Pittsburg that had a vested interest or were recommended to us to be on the steering committee,” Brenner said. “Open studio” time was scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday.
Topics of discussion at the Tuesday morning visioning session included development and redevelopment, infrastructure and environment, transportation, housing, commercial business and employment, and parks and recreation and open space.
“Ultimately,” said Ochsner Hare & Hare Vice President Ken Boone, “this plan is yours, and we want to make sure that you understand what your community and your people and your stakeholders think about these different things.”
When this week’s visioning and community input sessions are complete, Boone said, Ochsner Hare & Hare will refine the ideas presented into a written plan that will be submitted to the city, and the city will then be able to revise it and decide whether to officially adopt the plan.
The visioning session Tuesday involved participants providing responses to questions by writing ideas on sticky notes and putting them on posters around the room at Block22.
“We’ll be reviewing all these and then we will go back and actually record every single comment that comes to us throughout this entire process and those will be documented word for word in the plan,” said Tresa Carter-Hahs, an associate planner with Olsson and a member of the team that came from Kansas City for the land use plan input process. “Our sheets are getting filled up with sticky notes,” Carter-Hahs said, “so I would say people are eager to give us their thoughts and opinions.”
Boone pointed out that land use planning differs from zoning, which involves legally regulating how land can be used, rather than simply making future plans of how it might best be used.
Crawford County Zoning and Floodplain Administrator Troy Graham, who formerly worked in planning for the City of Pittsburg until 2015, attended the Tuesday visioning session, and said it was good to hear a variety of viewpoints.
“I think that’s kind of the biggest thing is seeing the broad ideas that everybody’s bringing to the table,” Graham said.
“It will be interesting to see how things are along the edges of Pittsburg, you know, where it goes out into the county and how that meshes with the county,” he said, adding that the county is currently looking at updating its comprehensive plan, “so we’ll probably take a lot of the information from this, and those outlying areas, and kind of mesh it into our plan and see how things work out.”
John Swartz, a Pittsburg resident and retired law enforcement officer, said he heard about the land use plan visioning session on the city’s website, adding that he thinks some changes need to be made in the city and participating in the session was one way to find out what can be done to make those changes.
“Housing is one aspect of it,” Swartz said, adding that he’d like to know what the ratio of single family home ownership is in the city in comparison to the number of single individuals who may own dozens of rental properties. He also brought up the city’s process of studying whether it should take over providing electricity in Pittsburg from utility company Westar (Evergy, Inc.)
“I think that’s crazy,” Swartz said. “We’re already established and I have no reason to think that the city could do a better job.”
Despite things he thinks the city should consider doing differently, Tuesday’s visioning session was “a great start,” he said.
Swartz pointed out that many participants in the visioning session were either city officials or landowners, and the city might get more representative input “if you had just strictly the residents of the City of Pittsburg come in and give their opinions, rather than business people or city management.”
Swartz said it would be helpful for the city to host similar visioning sessions in the evening, when people who have to work during the day could more easily attend them.
“I’d like to see them have it two or three nights, let’s say from 6 o’clock to 10 o’clock, you know, so people that are getting off work can come in and offer their opinions. There’s no way that a lot of people can get off work to come to this,” Swartz said.
Swartz added, however, that he liked the basic format of the visioning process for the land use plan.
“I like the way they have it set up,” he said, “and I think it’s something that could be done in the future, and they might get better input on how people feel.”