The Ottumwa Courier

May 8, 2013

City planners taking the long view

By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — Even if you're doing something as simple as walking to school, work or the supermarket, it's hard to make progress if you don't know where you're going.

City of Ottumwa officials realized that 10 years ago, and on Tuesday, reaffirmed their commitment to their plan for Ottumwa's future.

"The demographics have changed since we were here last," said Cory Scott, Urban Planner at RDG Associates, a planning and design company with offices in Des Moines.

RDG was the company that put together a comprehensive map showing how the city could, and should, grow. But last time, they were using data from the 2000 Census. So as the comprehensive plan continues to unfold, it will require updates based on current need.

"On [some urban] projects, we're looking at the next 20 years, asking where we think development will be," Scott explained to a group of Ottumwa department heads. "This is a bit more specific, smaller plan. But we are still looking at 'housing,' 'quality of life' and 'smart-planning principles.'"

Scott said he was a little uncomfortable using that last term. What it really means, though, is using methods that the people who give out grants expect to see. When using those "principles," communities have been more successful in getting financial assistance toward growth. Housing can bring in money, too, as good, upper-tier houses tempt executives who might want to relocate a big business in Ottumwa. Also, that upper-tier housing availability, as people improve their lives and are able to move up, provides vacancies in lower- or mid-tier homes.

As for quality-of-life issues, like walking trails or parks, they may not actually make a profit, but they do provide additional incentive for newcomers to move to town, for families to remain in town and for college kids to move back.

Yet those are the same factors stated as important 10 years ago. What's changed?

Well, said Scott, there have been some major changes that need to be taken into consideration when laying out residential areas, parks and acceptable planning ideas.

One change is the bypass, a change in where the highway passes through or around Ottumwa. A large school has just been completed on one end of Mary Street on the south side of town. And downtown has changed a great deal since the planners last examined the area.

"In fact, we just found out we got a grant to [redo] the facades on a block of buildings," Scott said, adding the beautification could lead to more buildings getting a makeover downtown.

The planners also noticed things about the people in the community, both through the latest census data, which shows an increase in the community Hispanic population, and through their own observation, where they noticed an increase of the number of recreational bicyclists and walkers.

So besides better facilities for softball, baseball and soccer, we may want to talk about allowing more than one way to get to school — or work or the supermarket.

"How do we adjust our streets so they are more multimodal friendly?" said Scott.

He and city administrators said there would be more meetings on the subject. A public design workshop is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. today at Bridge View Center.

If you ever find yourself wondering what reporter Mark Newman is thinking, his Twitter page is @couriermark