BUCKHANNON – The most unexpected finding the Buckhannon Planning Commission stumbled upon while analyzing surveys used to craft the Buckhannon 2025 Comprehensive Plan?
In general, people in the Buckhannon-Upshur community are happy, Buckhannon Planning Commission Chair Curtis Wilkerson told city council Thursday night.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley had asked Wilkerson if he’d encountered any “surprises” as the city’s planning commission and West Virginia Wesleyan College interns were analyzing the surveys of 730 respondents.
“No, and that was the surprising part,” Wilkerson said. “So, what we found is that people are happy. Across the entire Buckhannon community – it’s not complacency – it’s that they really think things are moving in a very positive direction. They’re pleased that people are working together, that entities within local government are working together.”
“There [are] the hopes that city and county government will find more efficiencies, especially in those sub [categories] because it would allow for better buy-in and so forth,” Wilkerson added. “And I would say a couple of key things that I do want to bring attention to is people had a lot of concern about opioids – a lot of concern. A lot of people also understand the medical issues that go with that, and they also understand that there are limits the city’s control of that; addiction is a bigger societal issue.”
According to state code, each municipality in West Virginia is required to complete a comprehensive plan at least every 10 years. State code says the plan’s purpose is to, “guide a governing body to accomplish a coordinated and compatible development of land and improvements within its territorial jurisdiction.”
State code also notes that comprehensive plans should “promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of inhabitants” and must include citizen participation. The latter requirement is why surveys were made available on the city’s website and in city and county libraries, in addition to other public locations.
In presenting the Buckhannon 2025 Plan to council, Wilkerson outlined the Planning Commission’s goals.
“We wanted to take the 2015 plan and build upon the successes that it had, so essentially, we were creating a very significant update,” he said. “We wanted to [abide by] state code, we wanted to be very inclusive, we wanted to be completely transparent, we wanted to be very positive, and we wanted a digestible plan of less than 20 pages.”
“So, what you have in front of you hits all of those goals,” he added.
Wilkerson went on to note Planning Commission members and city stakeholders researched comprehensive plans of similar-sized cities and held multiple meetings that were not only advertised publicly but also well-attended. The Planning Commission and stakeholders put in over 1,000 hours of work within the past year, he said.
The first step, Wilkerson said, was to complete an analysis of the Buckhannon 2015 Plan and decide what measures had been completed; which ones were pending; and identify goals or strategies no longer applicable. Wilkerson said he was happy to report 730 people returned the surveys distributed by the Planning Commission – a vast improvement over the number of participants in years past.
“That’s almost double the number of people who participated in the 2015 plan survey, and we partnered with a lot of stakeholders to distribute that survey both digitally and hard copy,” Wilkerson said. “Lastly, we had a large event at the Public Safety Complex, which many of you here today attended. It was a packed event in January, but actually not good weather, so it was amazing, but the breakout groups were led by subcommittee chairs, and it was widely advertised.”
Wilkerson explained the Aug. 1 meeting of city council was the Planning Commission’s formal presentation of the Buckhannon 2025 Plan to council. Council must then follow a set of protocol outlined in state code involving a public hearing prior to possible adoption of the plan.
“It is our recommendation to you to accept the plan as presented, and we want to thank you for the opportunity to serve the community,” Wilkerson said.
Mayor David McCauley and other council members commended Wilkerson and Susan Aloi, vice chair of the Planning Commission, for their leadership.
Aloi said that although people seem to be generally pleased with the direction in which the City of Buckhannon is headed, there was concern over education in the county.
“There was some concern over, ‘Are we preparing the children appropriately to be ready for what’s coming in terms of economic development?’ and that sort of thing, but there was also a lot of hope in regards to education, too, with some changes in the board office,” she said.
Councilman CJ Rylands asked Wilkerson how he would recommend executing the plan, and Wilkerson replied he thinks council should proceed “one chapter at a time” and bring in stakeholders in each area to solicit their feedback.
“It’s a simple document, and that’s the way to go about it,” Wilkerson said.
McCauley noted the Buckhannon 2025 Plan was a “living document” council is supposed to readily consult rather than leaving it on a shelf to collect dust.
“This is supposed to be a living document that we will employ and be attentive to in the years to come,” he said.
City attorney Tom O’Neill explained that on Thursday, council could only vote to formally accept the Planning Commission’s submission; however, in the future, they will vote on whether to adopt, reject or amend the plan. First, the city must advertise a public hearing on the 2025 Plan for 15 days prior to the public hearing taking place.
That means the soonest city council could consider adopting, amending or rejecting the plan would be at its Sept. 5 meeting.
“Tonight, you can vote to accept the presentation, but we need to be clear that this is not an adoption of the final disposition of the plan,” O’Neill said, adding the plan must be adopted via ordinance. Theoretically, a public hearing could take place at the outset of the Sept. 5 city council meeting, and if council approves the ordinance adopting the plan the same night, a second reading would take place at council’s Sept. 19 meeting. Then, 30 days after adoption, the ordinance adopting the plan would take effect, O’Neill said.
“To clarify, tonight we are accepting the submittal of this document, but we still have to jump through some hoops,” McCauley said.
Councilwoman Mary Albaugh made a motion to accept the submission of the plan, which was seconded by councilwoman Pamela Bucklew prior to passing unanimously.
Copies of the plan are available for perusal at Buckhannon City Hall, the Charles W. Gibson Library and the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce. Soon, an electronic copy of the plan will be accessible on the city’s website, www.buckhannonwv.org.