The City of Auburn continues to encourage residents and stakeholders to be involved in developing a new comprehensive plan, dubbed Auburn 2040.
Members of the Auburn Plan Commission and other city officials participated in an interactive exercise during Tuesday’s meeting at Auburn City Hall to identify areas they want to retain as well as improve in the new plan.
The city’s Department of Building, Planning and Development has enlisted MS Consultants Inc. to assist. A website, auburn2040.com, has been created and includes a survey for citizens to share their ideas and thoughts for current conditions and future growth.
Tuesday, Shannon Fergus and Erin Moriarty of MS Consultants, as well as Auburn BPD administrator Amy Schweitzer and zoning administrators Amber Bassett and Alexis Busselberg shared input from the Auburn 2040 steering committee that identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the community.
“We were very much looking forward to engage the community at various events this summer, and that is simply not possible given the pandemic,” Schweitzer said Wednesday. “We have tried to strengthen our online engagement efforts via a series of online surveys.
“Other than that, we are pleased to be in the middle of this process, and having engaged the steering committee and the stakeholder groups,” she added. “We are excited to begin developing the text and graphic components of the plan — the vision, the objectives, maps and action items.”
To date, about 500 people have responded to a survey on the auburn 2040 website. Schweitzer said people can offer their views through the end of summer.
A community meeting is planned for October, with an open house next spring to discuss recommendations.
Schweitzer said meetings were held earlier Tuesday and Wednesday with different groups of stakeholders: business and economics; transportation, utilities and emergency services; environmental and outdoor recreation; downtown; interlocal government collaboration; health, education and human services; and residential and neighborhood.
The steering committee identified the city’s strengths as safety, Auburn Essential Services, cultural resources, dining and retail opportunities, events, history, home values and the Main Street Association.
Weaknesses cited include high electricity rates, downtown parking, limited tourist attractions, a lack of entertainment for youth, a lack of pedestrian and public transit options, housing options, downtown property maintenance, private investment, appearance and traffic flow of arterial streets and limited transparency, inclusivity and diversity.
Identified opportunities include downtown revitalization, more community events and programming, enhanced parks and recreation amenities, walkability, historic preservation, gateway and corridor enhancements, more community engagement and representation, regional collaboration, redevelopment sites and population growth through quality of place investments.
Possible threats include financial resources, the ability to attract new, young residents, affordable housing, the high cost of energy for businesses, parking, business attraction and retention, workforce attraction and retention, status-quo mindset, lack of community pride, aging infrastructure and public and government buy-in and understanding of return on investment.
The interactive component involved a large map of the city. Attendees at Tuesday’s meeting placed green dots over areas they wish to retain or preserve and red dots over areas they would like to re-imagine or improve.
Several green dots populated the downtown area and parks, including Rieke Park, the James Cultural Plaza and Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. Many red dots appeared along West 7th Street, the city’s east and south sides, and in some parks.
Mayor Mike Ley believes the city should use Cedar Creek as an attraction.
“I don’t think we really take any advantage of that to any great degree, and that could be from the northern boundary to the southern boundary, all the way through town, not just downtown,” he said. “I see some great opportunities to use that creek, particularly in downtown, and some future development. I think that needs to be on there as an opportunity.”
Citing Fort Wayne’s Promenade Park as an example, Ley said, “I think you’ll get a vision of what you can do. … I think we have the ability to do that, even though it’s a little creek, it’s what we have, and I think we could do something in a similar fashion.”
Plan Commission member Jamie Canino shared his trip to San Antonio, Texas, earlier this summer. “Their creek in the middle of town is no bigger than Cedar Creek; actually, it’s probably smaller,” he said. “I went on a ghost tour in the middle of the night, on a Tuesday, and that place was packed. That was a hub all hours of the day and night. It was just a neat experience.”
Earlier, Plan Commission member Mike Makarewich expressed a desire to work with the county to emphasize parks, recreation and trails.
Plan Commission member Al Wleklinski said Auburn needs to have diversified attractions. “We can’t afford to get boxed in,” he said.
“That’s not an easy thing to do,” said Plan Commission member Chris Lamm. He expressed a desire to do more to better link downtown activities to those farther south in Auburn to “play off each other.”
Commission member Jim Finchum, who also serves on the Auburn City Council, expressed a desire to have better relations between the city and DeKalb County.
There was also discussion about having close, neighborhood parks versus larger parks with more attractions.
The lack of and variety of housing is a concern, Fergus told the Plan Commission.
“You guys do not have enough housing to meet demand, which is raising prices. You don’t have enough housing types, and you don’t have enough housing quantity,” she said.
There doesn’t seem to be a leading favorite in housing types, however, Schweitzer said.
Explaining that respondents could check multiple categories, Schweitzer said 52% favored a large house in a suburban neighborhood with a large garage, while 50% would opt for a historic house with a detached garage in a more densely populated area.
A large house on a large rural lot was favored by 43% of respondents; a small house with an attached garage in a suburban area was preferred by 40%; and a newer, large house with an attached garage in a more densely populated area drew 28%. Another 10% preferring a small house with no garage in a dense population.
“You guys are starting to feel what we’ve seen a lot of communities feel, which is the beginning of development pressure from a larger city. You’re feeling pressure from Fort Wayne,” Fergus added. “As people are moving north, you’re needing to develop south, and the first thing you feel when that happens, it’s hard to find a place to live.”
Surveys and a mapping activity are available on the Auburn 2040 website, auburn2040.com. Those may be found on the “Get Involved” page of the website.
In addition, hard-copy surveys are available at the Eckhart Public Library and at the Building, Planning and Development Department office at Auburn City Hall.
Originally posted: The Star