Published: Thursday, 05 October 2017 07:54
By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — About 50 residents turned out Tuesday night to record their ideas and thoughts about what downtown Mount Vernon should look like in the next 10 to 20 years.
Calling the workshop the “first and long time coming” meeting to determine what the downtown area will look like, Jeff Harris, president of the Area Development Foundation of Knox County, said private investors have put $38 million into the downtown area since 2010. “That's private investment only, not city investment or county investment. That's colleges, businesses and philanthropic groups.
Jason Study talks about the need for a downtown plan at Wednesday's public focus group at the Memorial Building - KP Photo
“But right now we don't have much of a vision to say what should go in the downtown area, or what investment should be made in the downtown,” he said, noting, for example, that residents might not want to locate a tattoo parlor next to living space.
Jason Study and Conor Willis of OHM Advisors, a Columbus-based community advancement firm, led the interactive session. Study said the downtown is “an amazing connector between the past and present,” and that Mount Vernon's downtown is ahead of other communities with the presence of world-renowned learning institutions, Ariel-Foundation Park and an interesting, and unusual, well-blended mix of industrial, agricultural and commercial.
OHM was hired by the Mount Vernon Development Company, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, with a grant from the Ariel Foundation.
Willis reviewed four trends that are shaping Mount Vernon and other communities nationwide:
*Walkability – desire for
*Change in household structure – 72 percent of households in 2015 had no children
*Growth in senior households
*Stability of area employment
Dividing the downtown into five areas, Study told participants to “think about businesses that could be here, places you could shop and places you could live.” The five areas are:
*West High Street, the “front door” to the city from I-71
*The old middle/high school site on Mulberry Street
*Surrounding neighborhoods, south of High Street to Ariel-Foundation Park
*Ariel-Foundation Park, difficult to get there from downtown
“Think of things you want, things you don't want to damage, things you want to change or alter to make the downtown a better place,” he said.
Participants wrote down ideas and suggestions on panels labeled with the five areas. They used red, yellow and green dots to mark areas or buildings they feel need to be severely repurposed or razed, improved or left alone. The also were asked to prioritize themes for the downtown. The top two were economic development through a mix of uses (repurposing) and implement a coordinated traffic strategy.
Following are a few ideas and suggestions the group made:
*Small grocery for walkable errands on the west side
*Embrace agricultural history with the feed mill
*Demo old school
*Turn old school into affordable housing
*Turn old school into an indoor market/mall
*Connect Ariel-Foundation Park to the west end via a walk/bike trail
*Bathroom access on Public Square
*Walking bridge over the Kokosing River
*Safer walking and parking
*Welcome center on West High Street
*Tear down former Mazza's Restaurant
*More retail shops, restaurants, outside seating
*More street furniture – trash cans, benches
“Big” ideas include:
*Bike and kayak rental business
*Close South Main Street to traffic and improve with unique shops, cafes and outside seating
*Mix of businesses that open at different times; most don't open early or stay open late and aren't open on Sunday
Study and Willis will be at October's First Friday event on Oct. 6 seeking further input. Residents are encouraged to visit them at their booth outside of Central Ohio Technical College.
Residents can also leave comments and suggestions at https://www.mountvernondowntownplan.com. Results of Wednesday's workshop should be available on the website after noon on Thursday.
When the downtown study period is over, OHM will create outcomes which note different scenarios of what the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods could look like and policy goals which show how to achieve those scenarios.
Published: Wednesday, 04 October 2017 11:42
By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — Democrat Susan Kahrl and Republican Jeff Gottke faced each other in a debate Tuesday night in an effort to win the votes of 4th Ward residents.
Kahrl is an incumbent at-large council member who says she has energy, enthusiasm and commitment and is ready to be the 4th Ward representative. She cited her experience on council, volunteer work at Ariel-Foundation Park and with the Mound View Cemetery tour, and involvement with Main Street Mount Vernon as part of her qualifications.
Gottke said that even though the federal government dominates Facebook conversations, he believes local government is the most important level. He said Mount Vernon is poised for growth, and he wants the city to be a destination where seniors choose to retire, people choose to move to and children love to grow up in.
Regarding the most pressing issues in the 4th Ward and their solutions, Gottke mentioned lack of funds, deferred infrastructure maintenance and the drug problem. Noting that these problems affected the whole city, not just the 4th Ward, he said community engagement is the key. “Council has to do a better job of engaging with the community,” he said.
4th Ward Council candidate Jeff Gottke makes a point at last night's candidates debate at MVNU - KP Photo
“The thing I hear most clearly and loudly in the 4th Ward is the opiate problem,” said Kahrl, adding that she has talked with many citizens and held neighborhood meetings because people were concerned about drugs being sold at Chester Shock Park. She agrees there needs to be more proactive talking with citizens to find out what they need.
On the flip side, Gottke said that residents tell him they are most concerned about drugs, brick streets and stray cats. Kahrl agreed, adding alleys as another issue because of pass-through traffic and drug activity. She said she has talked with Mayor Richard Mavis, who asked the police department for increased bike patrols in the alleys.
Responding to a question about the income diversity in the 4th Ward, Kahrl said talking with people is the way to bridge any divide and said she was excited about the opportunity for growth in the north end at Meadow Ridge Apartments. “The reason why they're doing that is they feel the community is prime for that kind of development,” she said.
Gottke said diversity in the 4th Ward is a good thing because it “forces us to talk to each other.” He said he wants residents to call him. “If they want me to stand on their porch and watch drug activities, I will,” he said.
On the brick street issue, Gottke said he loves brick streets but noted that the city faces $18 million in repairs over the next 10 years. “We've got to figure out a way to make improvements affordable,” he said. Kahrl said the brick street projects always get put on the back burner because there is not enough money. “If we get the ½ percent income tax [passed], we can make brick streets a goal,” she said.
Regarding truck traffic on East High Street, Kahrl advocates a city-wide traffic study. “We have to find ways to fix the whole city to get through transport every day – pedestrian, bike and vehicle,” she said, noting that speed bumps on Edgewood Road will just send vehicles another route.
Gottke said that the city needs a plan, not just a traffic study. “Where do we want the traffic to go?” he asked. “Essentially, we're just following problems around instead of deciding where we want the trucks to go.”
“We have a plan, it's just not being followed,” responded Kahrl. “We really need to work something out for the whole city.”
Both candidates favor charter government vs the current statutory government. Kahrl said she sees stability with a city manager under charter government, regardless of politics. Noting that the city's safety-service director is basically the same as a city manager, Gottke said the city can maintain its current structure under charter rule. “I favor a separately elected strong mayor and a separately elected council,” he said.
Asked about how the city should address the drug problem, Gottke said it is a community problem, not a city problem and that education, action and recovery is needed. “Meetings are not enough,” he said. “As councilman, I will take the lead on being educated on drug use in the 4th Ward.” Part of his action is to call landlords or property owners because “they are a big problem” with either not knowing about or ignoring drug activity on their properties.
“The drug epidemic is hurting the good qualities and putting a mar on our city,” said Kahrl. “We really need to get passionate, open lines of communication and use the crime tip hotline.”
As to whether the candidates would support a recovery house being located in the 4th Ward, Kahrl said, “I am sure there would be complaints. I think we need recovery housing but it's a very sensitive subject and something to give a lot of thought about where it's located. If it's adequately patrolled...I need to get more knowledge about what's involved.”
Gottke said that limited options only makes the drug problem worse. “We need recovery housing,” he said. “We're afraid of that. When we push them out we're saying we don't want you in our neighborhood. That's exactly what addicts don't need. When we say 'I don't want it in my neighborhood,' it only makes the problem worse.”
To create a more fiscally responsible budget, Gottke said the city needs to create and stick to a long-term spending plan for the next five to 10 years. Noting he cannot state specifics as he is not familiar with details, he said the city needs to be proactive and ask what can we spend now that will save money down the road?
Kahrl said that in her six years on council, she has seen nothing but wonderful long-term plans. “I think we've done a really good job of being conservative with the money we have,” she said, adding that deferred maintenance is now an issue because of lack of funds.
4th Ward Council candidate Susan Kahrl listens to a question at Tuesday's candidate debate at MVNU - KP Photo
In closing, Gottke repeated that Mount Vernon is poised for growth and can no longer afford to stand still. “If we are going to grow, it must be on our terms,” he said, adding that he has the energy to capitalize on a new vision for the city and neighborhoods as well as the downtown. “We no longer have the same expectations. We need new leadership and new thinking.”
“With three terms on city council, I've acquired a broad understanding of our city,” said Kahrl, adding that she also realizes why the city received the Best Hometown honor. “I'm proud to witness how the administration and residents have worked together on future improvements that will stand the test of time. We need to be proactive but also reflect on the past.” She said her abilities make her the best candidate “to be an advocate for our community.”