Sunbury Master Plan committee held first session last Thursday
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
During a planning session immediately preceding the Monday, March 19, Village of Sunbury Planning & Zoning Commission meeting commission members discussed and recommended entering into an agreement with the Delaware County Regional Planning Commission to resurrect a 2003-04 Village of Sunbury Comprehensive Master Plan that was never formally adopted.
Sunbury also paid the Delaware County Regional Planning Commission (DCRPC) to help develop that 2003-04 planning document. Over the course of a year, then DCRPC Director Phil Laurien met with a steering committee during open public meetings and created a generic master plan that contained an abundance of regional background information — demographics, growth estimates and land-use history.
The 2003-04 document made various recommendations based upon assumptions that have now changed. Since 2003 the Nestlé property has changed, the Kroger site has changed, there have been downtown streetscape improvements, additional sidewalks throughout the village, the Granville Street Bridge was built, there was a major sanitary sewer plant upgrade, and the village is no longer in the water business.
During 2008 Sunbury Village Council members considered a resolution to contract with Bird-Houk Collaborative to prepare a Village of Sunbury Comprehensive Master Plan. That resolution was tabled and finally defeated following the October 2008 collapse of the sub-prime housing market that drove the economy into recession. Village council members decided they could not afford to pay $100,000 for a master plan that required an additional $25,000 traffic study.
DCRPC Director Scott Sanders attended a work session one hour before the regularly scheduled February Village of Sunbury Planning & Zoning Commission to discuss options for updating the 2003-04 document. At that session Sanders said since Sunbury’s 2003-04 document included a Visioning phase the old document could easily be updated by holding steering committee meetings open to the public.
Sunbury Village Council members subsequently approved funds to have DCRPC update the draft master plan, and at the September 19 council meeting steering committee dates were agreed on – the first Thursday of each month for at least the next six months – and the composition of the steering committee was announced.
The steering committee includes two members of village council, two members of the planning and zoning commission, a member from the Big Walnut Area Historical Society, a member from the Big Walnut Local School District, and two at-large members from the residential community.
The first steering committee meeting was held last Thursday, November 1, in third floor council chambers, Sunbury Town Hall.
In opening the session, Sanders gave what he called a brief executive summary of Sunbury.
The village encloses 1,932 acres. Of that acreage, 537 acres are residential, 118 acres are industrial, 143 acres are commercial, 209 acres are institutional, 254 acres are agricultural and 535 acres are vacant.
In 2001 and 2002 there were 75 and 72 building permits issued, respectively. Building permits dropped to zero in 2005, climbed to 37 by 2009, and only 19 building permits were issued during 2011. Over that 2001 to 2011 decade Sunbury grew from a population of 2,813 to 4,591.
Between residential, farm, industrial and commercial properties the village has $107,019,250 worth of real estate.
The village racial makeup is 4,179 Caucasian, 50 African-American, 75 Latino, 7 American Indian, 52 Asian and 35 listed as Other.
Sanders also briefly described Delaware County Regional Planning Commission’s areas of authority – county unincorporated areas zoning responsibility, watershed work and contract comprehensive plans.
“We don’t have the authority a lot of people think we have,” Sanders said. “But we like to be at the table.”
Sanders also established the steering committee process — concentrate the planning area within village boundaries, limit sessions to two hours each, go quickly through background information then get into sub-area details.
As a historical note Sanders showed slides of early grid layouts – including early Sunbury – and later curved street designs made popular by Frederick Law Olmsted. In early town and village layouts, there were mixed-uses and pedestrian access to the core.
He also showed aerial views of today’s big box retail stores with out-lots, and examples of the typical modern suburban look. He said automobiles are a big reason we have developed the way we have — parking is needed in each home, business, church and school.
Sanders said today’s production builders create neighborhoods with houses that look the same. They sell well, he said, but builders and developers serve the needs of their individual residential and commercial markets, making it difficult to create a handsome, mixed-use environment that’s pedestrian friendly.
Ideally we would create communities people want to live in, Sanders said. Those communities would encourage physical activity (be walkable), reduce utility costs, be sustainable, have shared parking, be aesthetically appealing, serve seniors, have public transportation and exhibit age diversity.
“The result is a traditional neighborhood design today that’s called new urbanism,” Sanders said. “Rich architectural detail, a dense core, mixed uses and walkable, human scale and intimate. You want people to come to the area and spend more time there.”
Sanders distributed a survey developed during the 2003-04 master plan meetings, suggesting that steering committee members review the survey and decide if they want to adapt it in some form for distribution as part of their process of updating the existing plan.
“People can get surveyed out,” Sanders said. “But people want to be heard. They want to be able to say what’s important to the community and what’s not. This is a working group; you can play with this. Ask yourself what kind of survey you’re trying to evolve; and when you survey make sure you get the right mix of people.”
Sunbury Village Administrator Dave Martin said the steering committee should consider the zoning in surrounding townships; what their zoning looks like as it touches Sunbury.
“The reality of it at the end of the day is, all of Big Walnut is one community,” Martin said. “What we do here will impact property values outside of the village.”
Sunbury Mayor Tommy Hatfield agreed with Martin.
“I feel the Sunbury community has a lot of responsibility to the Big Walnut area,” Hatfield said. “We want to know our neighbor’s thoughts; we don’t want to do things in the back room. Sunbury has limits, so how far out do we plan? To our boundaries, or outside of our boundaries?”
Hatfield said he also struggles with welcoming a builder or business into the community because he wants to serve people who have lived in Sunbury for 50 years and longer.
“All we can do is try to do something right,” Hatfield added. “We’ve got to push on, and along the way make sure we do this right.”