Morgantown (West Virginia) Area Partnership hosts comprehensive planning panel discussion

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Planning is vital for any area that wants to experience success. That was the theme of the “Infrastructure Week: Comprehensive Plan Panel” hosted by the Morgantown Area Partnership and presented via Zoom Friday morning.

The panel hoped to answer three questions: What impact does the comprehensive planning process have on our community? Why is public involvement important? Why are comprehensive plans important for economic development?

A comprehensive plan is a long-range plan for an area. It captures the vision of where the community wants to be at some point in the future, and the plan is usually updated every 10 years.

Monongalia County Commissioner Sean Sikora hosted the facilitated conversation with a panel that included Bill Austin, executive director, Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization; Andrew Gast-Bray, director of planning, Monongalia County Commission; Russ Rogerson, president & CEO, Morgantown Area Partnership; Rickie Yeager, director of Development Services, city of Morgantown.

Austin spoke of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s role in roadwork, noting they have two main responsibilities: The first is to develop a long-range transportation plan for the area to accommodate the area’s vision for growth, and the second is to approve the use of federal surface transportation funds for any project within the defined urban area.

“Comprehensive planning and the transportation plan fit together like a hand in glove,” Austin said. “When you think about transportation, and roads in particular, what it does is serve as a routing land-use. It is a way for people to get to and from their work, to get to their homes, to go shopping where they need to.”

To develop a good transportation plan, one has to understand the land use and future land use of the area to plan for it, Austin said.

“The guiding principle is the future growth and how that works, and if we have a bad understanding of what future growth looks like, then we won’t be able to plan the roads,” Austin said. “The comprehensive plan serves as the foundation for the future transportation network.”

Rogerson said good planning makes for better communities. One of the issues he encounters regularly with planning is a lack of community involvement.

“To be perfectly honest, there’s been so many times as we were trying to put projects in different locations and do different things where the general public will say, ‘I didn’t know that was going to happen here,’ and then you follow up with, ‘We had a big session last year,’ talking about this and people don’t engage,” Rogerson said. “I highly recommend that you engage when you see that they’re having public input. Public input makes for a better plan.”

Rogerson noted that as the chief economic development organization in the Morgantown community, it is important to bring things in and put them in places that make sense, both from a location and cost-effectiveness standpoint.

“It makes no sense for us to put a large factory or facility that may drive 200 or 300 cars a day in a place that isn’t suited for it,” Rogerson said. “That only adds cost and angst to the community, and that’s not what we want to do.”

Communication is key, he added.

“One of the first things I did [when joining the Morgantown Area Partnership] was sit down with our water and sewer provider and say, ‘Where are you strong, and where are you weak?’ Rogerson said. “Because I can’t put a large user of that four miles away from where they can actually handle it.”

Good growth is more important than just growing, he said.

“Good growth is managed growth, bringing in the right types of jobs in as needed, adding value to the community in terms of spin-off development — be it housing, commercial, or whatever,” Rogerson said. “If we don’t do that in a strategic way, then we’re not successful.”

The key to that good growth, Rogerson said, is planning.

“Sure, I have my problems with it when I can’t do something I want to do, as we all do,” Rogerson said. “But that’s part of working through things, and in a good plan, you have less of that.”

Guidance, in the form of community input, will help make those better decisions, he said.

“It’s not an infinite amount of money to put roads in, put water and sewer in, to do bike trails and pedestrian walkways,” Rogerson said. “But, we all want a better place to live, and I think good planning helps guide us in that direction.”

It does really make the community better, Rogerson said, and that is what is most important.

“When you go to a community that has very good planning, you realize you like that place,” Rogerson said. “It’s a subtle and tangible thing that you can’t see as a resident but you feel it when you drive around, walk around, shop, or go to your job.”

Sikora said that in Monongalia County, there has been so much growth that it is outpacing critical infrastructure. He used the term “paralysis by analysis” to describe how having so many projects sometimes gets in the way of getting any particular one started.

“Since coming into office and living here as a citizen for 30 years, I’ve always noticed that we’re always a little ahead of our infrastructure, and that’s really kind of a blessing and a curse,” Sikora said.

As the world becomes more connected virtually, broadband is becoming the infrastructure that gets the most talk these days, Sikora said.

“Here in Monongalia County, we have an initiative where we just approved a consultant this week to provide a comprehensive plan for broadband access,” Sikora said. “There is so much talk about broadband and with the pandemic, everybody is running around with a lot of money in their pocket to actually do something [through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021], but with no real plans.”

The broadband initiative is “an interesting and exciting project,” and Sikora is happy to lead on this issue.

“Broadband is a utility that everybody needs to have access to. That’s something that we’re also working on,” Sikora said. “It’s as important as roads, electric, and water, and this pandemic has proven that.”

During the Zoom presentation, it was noted that those wanting more information on the strategic planning efforts of their community should consult their city or county website, as well as attend any meetings open to the public.

May 16, 2021 –

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