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CRA discusses master plan

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By Pat Hibbs

Williston's Community Redevelopment Agency, at its Monday night meeting, undertook a review and revision of its master plan, which was adopted in late 2002.

The effort was undertaken at the urging of Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council principal planner David Connolly, who was recently assigned as WRPC's liaison with the CRA. At an earlier meeting, he told the panel that the plan had not been examined since its approval five years ago and, in several aspects, no longer conformed either to the CRA's current priorities or to the realities of the changes in the city.

The original CRA plan had envisioned progress over a 30-year span, and identified specific projects to be implemented during that time frame. The new City Hall, for example, was projected in year 28, or 2030, but recent developments in the center of town have dramatically escalated the importance of that effort.

Similarly, "partial Linear Park improvements" was forecast for year 19, or 2021. Thanks to the results of a joint project between the CRA and a landscape architecture class from the University of Florida, plans were drawn up last year for the entirety of the park.

Additionally, the initial plan listed sources of funds for projects and went so far as to specify anticipated costs for specific items (decorative waste receptacles for the park, for example), which may or may not be accurate in 2008. While the initial revision of the plan did not examine those specific costs, the panel did deal with projected funding sources.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds supply the bulk of the CRA's funds, and, largely due to the steep rise in property values, contributions to TIF funds from both the city and the county have increased substantially more than was anticipated in even the original plan's most generous estimates.

So the CRA has money to spend and a re-ordered sense of the priorities for those revenues. Note that the CRA may only recommend projects and the expenditure of TIF funds to the city council, which may accept or reject those recommendations.

Members of the CRA, with Connolly's help, reviewed the project implementation schedule, making the obvious changes (Linear Park and the city hall complex), striking those activities that had been completed, and adding previously unanticipated projects. Connolly will present the revised documentation to the CRA at its next meeting.

On behalf of the WRPC, he also strongly recommended that the plan be updated at regular intervals.

City manager Jim Coleman, who attended the meeting to offer information and counsel, said that he felt it was a valuable exercise. He agreed with Connolly's suggestion that the update offered an "opportunity to join municipal redevelopment to the amendment of the city's comprehensive plan," which will be undertaken over the next year or so in accordance with the recently-completed Evaluation and Approval Report (EAR).

In more practical matters, Coleman presented pictures of street lighting proposed for Linear Park. The city's consultant had submitted only one example of an appropriate street light, and CRA members wanted further choices. After reviewing Coleman's documentation, the board asked its chairman, Dr. Ken Schwiebert, to coordinate the choice of lighting with Coleman.

Peter Zettler, who is the president of Friends of the Williston Public Library, returned to the CRA to plead his case (as a private citizen) that the CRA consider making the maintenance and improvement of the library a favored project. The CRA has thus far declined to do so on several grounds, as articulated by Schwiebert. The purpose of the CRA, Schwiebert says, is to foster economic development in the city, and the library does not fall under that mandate.

Coleman offered to review the lease of the library facilities with Zettler to determine the source of funds for the maintenance that Zettler maintains is needed before the building falls into disrepair. The CRA did discuss the installation of awnings over the two doors at the facility, suggesting that the effort be funded with a Faade Improvement Grant. No final decision was made.

The CRA meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month 5:15 p.m. at the city council chambers. The public is encouraged to attend.

In addition, there is a vacancy on the panel. An applicant need not live within the city limits to serve, but must do business in the city. For more information and an application, call Terry Summers at 528-3060.