Leann Vogt, a planner with Wendel, speaks to a crowd during the third public information meeting held Thursday, Jan. 18 at the Concord Senior Center. Photo by Rich Place.

By Rich Place

Roughly three dozen community members gathered last week to hear an update on the Town of Concord’s Comprehensive Plan process and to voice opinions on recommendations it’s expected to include.

The gathering was the third and final public information meeting before planners with Wendel create a draft comprehensive plan. A final draft must be completed by March 1, although adoption by the town is not confined to a specific schedule.

The meeting last week, held Jan. 18 at the Concord Senior Center, included a presentation by Leann Vogt and Andrew Riley, both of Wendel, that outlined 12 of the most noteworthy recommendations potentially to be included in the draft comprehensive plan. The recommendations varied greatly in scope, from revisions to zoning code to researching the idea of an outdoor performance amphitheater.

The ideas were generated from two previous community meetings, work by the Comprehensive Plan Committee, items still valid from the town’s most recent comprehensive plan — a joint one with the village from 1999 — and some common items from the village’s recently completed plan, according to Vogt.

A recommendation concerning the future of recreation in the town touched on several facets, including the advisement of evaluating the Rails to Trails project, the research and evaluation of an outdoor performance amphitheater and arts park, and improvements to Community Park.

Vogt said planners with Wendel, in developing these recommendations, had difficulty gauging the community’s general conscious about the Rails to Trails project.

“What our recommendation will be — it’s not going to say thumbs up or thumbs down to Rails to Trails — it is really honestly to study and further evaluate this,” she said. “This is an opportunity, and a lot of communities are taking advantage of this opportunity to develop wonderful trails creating connectivity for walking and biking and rollerblading and everything that might go on.

“But a lot of people are also very apprehensive about it because a lot of these rails go through the middle of nowhere and there’s not a lot around it,” she continued. “Really I think what the community needs to do — in conjunction with the Village of Springville — is work together to come to a conscious on this.”

The recommendations also included adding an amphitheater to the plan — not signifying such a project will take place, but instead advising the town to look into the possibility.

“We hear there is a burgeoning arts community and there is a lot of growing support for an outdoor performance amphitheater and arts park,” Vogt said. “Why not?”

“We are not talking about building another Chautauqua Institution or whatever, we are talking about something that fits into the community,” added Riley.

It was also recommended to make improvements to lighting, the snack shack and bathrooms at the town park. A resident also advised that it be added to the plan to make the town park a more year-round destination with winter activities.

A handful of recommendations for the town’s transportation system include advocating for improved public transportation services, park-and-ride upgrades, improvements to county roads and investigating bike and pedestrian improvements on roads around the village.

Bike and pedestrian improvements could include bike paths along major bike routes, for example.

“I know there’s a lot cyclists that do come through here. It’s beautiful,” Vogt said. “People want to come down here and ride. So it’s trying to provide some protections for them and the vehicles.”

ANOTHER NOTABLE recommendation proposed at the meeting was support for the creation of the Zoar Valley Road Extension Commercial Area, which would be a product of the town and village working together to develop property west of the village line.

“As you know with the changes to (Route) 219, there is an area of the town that may make sense for additional commercial development at the end of Zoar Valley Road Extension,” Riley said.

The idea was also under consideration in the village’s comprehensive plan, he said, and would include annexing the land from the town to the village for construction of new infrastructure for potential future commercial development.

“I see that as sprawl, plain and simple,” said Seth Wochensky, a community member at the meeting. He said he would be initially opposed to the idea because “the more miles we spread out our infrastructure, the more I am paying for that infrastructure” compared to a dense area within the village. Plus, he said the current land is “pristine, gorgeous” at present.

“What you don’t want to do is compete with what is going on in the village (and) you don’t want to do another Cascade Drive there; it would have to be something unique,” Riley said.

SPECIFICALLY ON the zoning code, which was the first recommendation outlined during the presentation, Riley said the firm reviewed and agreed with much of a zoning analysis completed by a previous consultant.

Among the recommendations included revising the town’s rural-agricultural district to be more focused and expanding agriculture-related uses like agribusiness and agri-tourism. It was also recommended to modernize the industrial zoning to allow for new types of industry and remove underutilized zoning districts.

Wendel officials advised in the plan that the town complete its town agriculture protection plan to better define a similar plan by the county.

“The county looks at it from a 1,000-foot level,” Riley said. “You need to look at it from a 100-foot level.” He said this includes sitting down with farmers and finding out more about farming in the town; the recommendation in the comprehensive plan is simply to consider the need for such an agricultural protection plan.

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS touched on considerations to the revision of mining law; the establishment of more visually appealing gateways and signage at the town’s major entrances; creation of an Environmental Protection Overlay; and continued support for protection of environmental features in the town like creeks, streams and Scoby Dam. There was also conversation about researching the adoption of law to accommodate more creative housing types and better defining the various levels of home business.

Planners from Wendel are now tasked with developing a draft of the comprehensive plan that will be posted on the town’s website for review. From there, they will work with the Comprehensive Plan Committee to refine, edit and finalize the document by March 1.

Then it’s on to the adoption process — which is handled by the town board — and, finally, implementation.

Riley advised the creation of an implementation committee that will follow up with the plan and see how it is being used. There is no timetable on the town board’s adoption of the plan, and it’s not uncommon for it to be months through more revisions and public meetings before it’s officially adopted, he said.