BUCKHANNON – Attention Upshur County residents: You’ve still got a chance to help steer the City of Buckhannon in the direction you’d like to see it veer over the next five years – but the clock is ticking.
In less than two weeks, that window of opportunity will be over. The city’s planning commission – which is in charge of authoring the Buckhannon 2025 plan – will wrap up its collection of resident surveys about overall vision for the city in the next five years at the end of January.
At a Monday, Jan. 14 town hall meeting held by the planning commission for the purpose of gathering community input on the Buckhannon 2025 Plan, planning commission president Curtis Wilkerson announced a timeline for the group’s completion of the document.
Wilkerson said the survey – which all residents of the Buckhannon-Upshur community are encouraged to fill out – is available online at https://www.surveymoney.com/r/RPYCTL8.
Wilkerson said the planning commission’s intention is to collect all Buckhannon 2025 Plan surveys by the end of January.
“Our timeline is to have them all in by the end of the month, and in February, we will begin analyzing the data,” Wilkerson said. “We’re having this town hall meeting tonight because our intent is to be very open and provide as much information as possible.”
Wilkerson said the planning commission will begin analyzing the data gathered in February and continue that process through March and April.
“At the end of April, we will begin drafting a plan so we can give that to city council by June 30,” he said, “so by the end of the fiscal year, we want to have this to city council.”
Comprehensive plans – like the Buckhannon 2025 Plan – aren’t binding, meaning they are only recommendations from area residents to Buckhannon City Council.
“The planning commission has no authority at all,” Wilkerson told the town hall meeting attendees. “These are just the recommendations of the citizenry of the community to the council.
“Also, remember this plan is about bigger visions, not small problems you have with the city’s functions,” Wilkerson added. “If you have a problem with the city’s trash collection, for example, there’s a department for that.”
Wilkerson also encouraged those in attendance to try to stay centered on issues the city has control over and not spend a lot of time on things only the state or federal government can control.
City councilman CJ Rylands, who heads up one of seven subcommittees working on different areas of the plan, encouraged town hall attendees to think in a solution-oriented manner and try not to allow preconceived notions cloud ideas for new possibilities.
“I would just focus on solutions … and try to be open-minded and objective,” Rylands said. “Think about what’s going to be best for the community in the long term. If a new solution comes up, consider it.”
At Monday’s meeting, the 30-plus people who attended split into seven breakout groups headed by a committee chair tapped to guide discussions on specific issues. Those included community (Rylands), education (former assistant superintendent of Upshur County Schools Jack Reger), recreation (executive director of the Opportunity House, Inc. Matt Kerner), infrastructure (Rich Clemens), governmental services (Wilkerson), economic development (Susan Aloi, former city recorder and West Virginia Wesleyan College professor) and health care (Dean Everett).
Following an hour-long brainstorming session, Wilkerson invited members of the community who attended the town hall but weren’t members of the planning commission to attend regular planning commission meetings. Contact Callie Cronin Sams, city information coordinator and grant writer, to find out more specifics about the planning commission’s scheduled work sessions.
Sams recently noted that although the commission prefers residents to fill out the survey online – 603 had been completed as of Monday’s town hall, Wilkerson reported – residents without access to computers or the internet can still participate. Hard copies of the survey are available at the following locations: Buckhannon City Hall, Stockert Youth and Community Center, Public Safety Complex on Florida Street (city police/fire departments), Upshur County Public Library, Upshur County Senior Center, Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, local W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources office and local Women, Infants and Children (WIC) headquarters.
“The planning commission prefers for folks to take the survey online if possible, as it makes it faster/more efficient to compile the results,” Sams said last week. “However, the hard copies are available for those who cannot complete the survey online and all responses are appreciated.”
So, what exactly will the Buckhannon 2025 Plan look like and how will it function?
According to a city press release, the plan will guide the future direction of the city “by providing strategic goals and recommendations for city council actions.” West Virginia Code mandates that municipalities write them, and they’re required to enlist the participation of residents to outline ideas for enhancing public safety, public health, prosperity, convenience and general welfare.
“A comprehensive plan should also recommend policies and actions that will enhance the ‘transportation, recreational, educational, cultural opportunities and historic resources’ while reducing inefficiencies,” according to the city’s website. “The legislative code also puts a value on saving and preserving historic buildings, such as the Colonial Theatre, as part of revitalization efforts and conserving natural resources and parklands.”