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Akst: Sycamore, time to get your plan on

Published: Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 11:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 12:43 a.m. CDT

Sycamore officials hope you overlook winter going into quintuple overtime to attend the second of two public input meetings about the city’s comprehensive plan.

The meeting is at 10 a.m. Saturday at Sycamore City Center, 308 W. State St. The first meeting was Thursday.

As an incentive to attend, the city will feature a free champagne brunch and a Jimmy Buffett concert.

OK, I totally made up the part about free brunch and Jimmy Buffett, but you should attend Saturday’s meeting if you couldn’t make it Thursday night. Sycamore residents can comment, ask questions, and give feedback during the workshops.

Why should you attend?

Because a community’s priorities become priorities based on a combination of residents’ desires and feasibility. Just like you wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, communities don’t progress without a master plan.

But with a house, only one or two families are involved; with a community, hundreds or thousands of families are involved. That makes it that much more critical to speak up about the building plan.

The city’s comprehensive plan is updated about every five years. The most recent (2008) plan is available in PDF format at www.cityofsycamore.com/comprehensiveplan/2014update.htm.

I have studied urban planning a bit, and I helped edit and design the downtown planning document for Austin, Texas. Although not an expert, I’ve looked at quite a few planning documents.

Sycamore’s is nicely constructed. At 88 pages and a fairly large file size, it takes a bit to download, but it’s well organized and attractively formatted.

All of which is to say: any city’s comprehensive plan is difficult – but required – reading if you truly are interested in a community’s evolution.

Brian Gregory, Sycamore’s city manager, is hosting the meetings. We chatted Wednesday about this round of plan updates.

Gregory said the 2008 plan heavily emphasizes land use because of projected growth, but that growth didn’t happen because of the Great Recession.

In 2014, Gregory said, “We will still focus on land use, but this will also give us an opportunity to drill down on redevelopment opportunities. That might mean downtown, maintaining what we have or general infrastructure.”

One interesting feature about the 2014 update is technological. This city is switching to a geographic information systems computer modeling method of depicting land use.

That’s wonky, but exciting, because the switch will allow for more dynamic rendering of information. As Northern GIS Services notes, “With GIS, you can explore the spatial element of your data to display soil types, tree stands, analyze animal migration patterns, find the best location for a new business, display pristine fishing areas and make decisions for many types of complicated problems.”

If you miss the meetings, it will still be possible to voice your opinion. Gregory said the city is working on a web page on the city’s site that will allow for posting comments.

After Saturday, here’s the timeline for the plan update:

Feb. 10: The plan draft is presented to the Plan Commission.

March 10: The Plan Commission convenes a public meeting.

April 21: The final plan (for this five-year period) is presented to the City Council.

Gregory and Mayor Ken Mundy both stressed that no matter how the plan evolves, residents and officials want Sycamore to remain Sycamore.

“Even as we grow, we want to maintain that small-town feel,” Gregory said. “We’re trying to make sure that the way we move forward and progress with our community is the way our community wants it to be.”

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, www.ninaonline.org. You can reach him at jasondakst@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @jasonakst.

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