Daily Press (Sunday)

Norfolk urged to look beyond downtown

Some on council want to ensure all areas are represente­d in comprehens­ive plan

- By Ian Munro Ian Munro, 757-447-4097, ian.munro @virginiame­dia.com

NORFOLK — City Council members want to make sure plans for what Norfolk will look like 25 years from now aren’t just focused on downtown.

The city kicked off its Norfolk 2050 comprehens­ive planning process this month to ask residents, businesses and stakeholde­rs how they want to see the city grow over the next few decades. These long-range planning tools help the city and elected officials orient around agreed goals on land use, capital projects and budgets, historic and environmen­tal preservati­on among others.

But at a council meeting last week, some council members were wary of too much focus on downtown. They’ve been down this road before, argued Councilman Tommy Smigiel Jr., referring to the developmen­t of Norfolk’s 2030 plan.

Smigiel said he wanted to be positive about the efforts, but worried the current strategy for engagement already is showing signs of weaknesses. At the meeting and in a later interview, Smigiel said the 2030 process, which was finished in 2013, was not inclusive and left certain neighborho­ods and corridors out of the process, including fast-growing Ocean View — a neighborho­od in his ward. Eventually, those areas were brought into the 2030 fold, but he recalled those additions came at the last minute due to lack of involvemen­t outside of downtown.

“There’s a lot of concern about being left out again,” he said Tuesday.

In recent years, the city focused on multiple major downtown projects, including a potential casino near Harbor Park, the redevelopm­ent of St. Paul’s and the purchase of the MacArthur

Center. The city does have large-scale projects outside of downtown, including the planned redevelopm­ent of Military Circle Mall and light-rail extension to that area.

Smigiel said projects outside downtown don’t seem to progress as fast — even if they’re on a significan­tly smaller scale than downtown efforts. Getting several parks establishe­d outside of downtown has taken years while City Council acted quickly to find the $18 million to buy MacArthur Center, he said.

The final 2030 plan did include plenty of actions slated for outside downtown. It contains 239 actions — measures meant to contribute toward the city’s identified goals including improvemen­ts for neighborho­ods, daily life, community services and environmen­tal sustainabi­lity. Seven of those actions were slated for downtown while 14 were for St. Paul’s and nine for the Downtown Arts District.

Smigiel was joined by Councilwom­an Mamie Johnson in talking about improving outreach to ensure input from every corner of the city.

The kickoff meeting and workshop for the Norfolk 2050 plan was held Oct. 7 at Harbor Park. Smigiel pointed out that so far, almost all the stakeholde­r interviews presented in documents Tuesday were from people with downtown ties.

Johnson also suggested there should be rotating events like the kickoff in at least each quadrant of

the city to make sure there are ample public events in different areas.

“That way, you can get everybody involved, you can get the positive feedback and then from that way you can know how to get the neighborho­ods involved,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Chris Whitney, chief planner for Norfolk 2050, said there will be multiple opportunit­ies for the public to contribute as the planning process continues through the summer of 2025. Another large workshop is slated for spring, and smaller community workshops will be held different areas of the city, he said. An interactiv­e, openhouse style workshop will take place in 2025.

“Throughout the entire NFK2050 process, and in between each of the major workshops, there will be numerous online and in-person outreach methods to ensure that diverse

audiences are able to participat­e through various touchpoint­s on the planning process,” he said in an emailed statement.

Downtown has an important role as an engine of revenue for the city, said Johnson, acknowledg­ing the desire to see projects accomplish­ed there. Yet the point of these kind of downtown capital projects is to create enough revenue to increase the quality of life and consistenc­y of services across all neighborho­ods, she said in an interview. An improvemen­t to such services and quality of life could help encourage more residents to stay in the city that is currently seeing a decline in residents.

“That’s half the battle, if we can provide out citizens across this city the services that they are so deserving of,” she said.

The Norfolk 2050 planning process will continue through the summer of

2025. City staff behind the comprehens­ive planning process say they are seeking to get residents from across the city involved.

Before hearing comments from council, the 2050 planners asked members to prepare lists of people from their wards who might be interested in joining a steering committee that would also include consultant­s and city staff. Members of the committee would act as tribunes, representi­ng the myriad voices, and attend quarterly meetings to make sure the planning process is on the right track, Whitney said.

“I think for a plan like this that is citywide, really leaning into that framework will help us a lot in getting that diverse and geographic­al representa­tion across the entire city,” he said.

Whitney also mentioned plans for a stipend for community representa­tives on the steering committee.

But the idea was flagged by City Attorney Bernard Pishko, who said he’d have to see if that is allowed.

“We just know that oftentimes these things are volunteer only and that starts to become limiting in terms of who can participat­e,” said Kristen Zeiber, an assistant planner for the project with one of the consultant firms.

Johnson said the idea for more connection­s from downtown to neighborin­g communitie­s is important but so too is a cultural connection between downtown and neighborho­ods across the city.

“If you don’t understand your entire city, then your focus will remain where you are,” she said.

Informatio­n: visit www. norfolk.gov/NFK2050.

 ?? BILLY SCHUERMAN/STAFF ?? The Norfolk 2050 planning process will continue through summer 2025. City staff say they are seeking to get residents from across the city involved.
BILLY SCHUERMAN/STAFF The Norfolk 2050 planning process will continue through summer 2025. City staff say they are seeking to get residents from across the city involved.
 ?? ?? Johnson
Johnson Smigiel

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