Dover finalizing new comprehensive plan

DOVER – The Dover Comprehensive Plan, basically the blueprint for the city’s vision and roadmap of its future and development for the next decade, is nearing completion and will be unveiled to the public later this month.

The city’s Planning Department has been working on the plan for the past year-and-a-half and is in the process of putting the final touches on the expansive document. City Planner Dave Hugg and Principal Planner Dawn Melson-Williams discussed the progress of the plan at the Council Meeting of the Whole last week.

The complete draft of the comprehensive plan is expected to be released to the city’s Planning Commission at its Oct. 21 meeting, as well as the City Council Committee of the Whole, the Historic District Commission and other groups before displaying all of the plans’ elements to the public at an open house event at the Dover Public Library on Oct. 23 from 3 until 7 p.m. and a visitation event at City Hall on Oct. 24 from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Officials from the Planning Department will be on hand at both community events to listen to suggestions and answer questions.

Mr. Hugg said it has been an exhaustive process but one that his department is finally closing in on completing.

“For about a year-and-a-half the planning staff has been engaged in-house with our own resources in updating the 2008-2009 Comprehensive Plan for the city of Dover,” Mr. Hugg said. “It’s been an extensive project.

“We started out with the notion that the original plan and current plan that’s now in effect – as amended throughout the years – was a very good plan and that our mission really was to demonstrate how that plan had worked and what had been accomplished and then to bring it into this decade 10 years later.”

Members of Dover’s planning staff were granted an extension in working on the comprehensive plan earlier this year, taking into consideration the group is crafting the plan in-house.

“The due date for submitting a comprehensive plan and having a plan approved was February 2019,” said Mr. Hugg. “We asked the state to give us some additional time because of the complexity of the plan and the fact that we were doing it in-house. We requested an extension and in September we were granted one.

“The plan was written by about five different people so now we’re trying to make it look like it wasn’t written by committee but, in fact, was written by one person, if you will.”

The development of a comprehensive plan is designed to be effective in guiding the growth and improving quality of life within a city and must identify specific actions and timeframes for implementation. The city’s success in meeting the upcoming challenges will in large part be determined by the actions it takes in the coming years.

The Dover Comprehensive Plan is the culmination of more than a year’s work, led by the Planning Office, in conjunction with other city departments, City Council, the Planning Commission, the Historic District Commission and the citizens of Dover.

Plan spurred by public input
Ms. Melson-Williams said public input is at the heart of the goals, recommendations and implementation actions of the plan, which is intended to be a living document that will guide the actions of city government as it addresses the challenges of a growing city.

She added that the public input does not end with the adoption of the comprehensive plan; rather, the public is encouraged to stay involved in the implementation of the plan to ensure that Dover continues to be a place where people want to live, work and play.

“We’re heavy into what we call the chapter writing and map development portion of this project,” Ms. Melson-Williams said. “We’ve been writing for a number of months and with the release of what we call the preliminary draft, and the staff draft number one, for internal review and that went to the planning staff team to department heads, a copy of the entire document together.

“We’ve been writing chapter by chapter and we’ve put all the chapters together with a certain number of the maps and we’ve sent it for internal review and have been receiving comments.

“We’ve been very busy coming up with that final version of a draft plan in order to start what is really the formal public release process for the document.”

It is anticipated the 2018-’19 Dover Comprehensive Plan will receive approval and put into action early next year.

City Councilman David Anderson expressed his appreciation for the planning staff’s effort in developing the plan.
“I just appreciate the work and the job that’s been done on this,” he said.
“Particularly as we’ve come up a little bit short-staffed, you’re still moving along with it in an expeditious fashion and there’s a lot of good things in here. I look forward to seeing the next draft of it.”

Council asks questions
Councilman Fred Neil was curious as to how the city of Dover’s Comprehensive Plan might have been affected by the Kent County Levy Court’s Comprehensive Plan that was approved earlier this year.

“The county planning process preceded ours by six months or so, which actually was fortunate, because we were able to understand what they were proposing and what they were thinking as we began to put our initiatives together,” Mr. Hugg said. “The two plans are well-meshed.”

Councilman Ralph Taylor wanted the comprehensive plan to add looking into getting passenger rail service into the city for events such as NASCAR races, the Firefly Music Festival and the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. The railroad tracks in Dover are currently only served by freight trains.

Mayor Robin Christiansen noted that the Kent County/Metropolitan Planning Organization has been in discussions about bringing rail service to and from Dover to the Route 50/301 corridor to the west to accommodate future businesses that might be interested in locating in Dover.

Right now, there are no concrete plans to add passenger rail service to Dover, which doesn’t currently have a usable passenger terminal.

As for Dover’s Comprehensive Plan, Mr. Hugg was grateful to those who crafted the last plan for the city, which he said was well thought out.
“There’s a very extensive State of Delaware checklist that you have to go through that you have to demonstrate that you’ve looked at economic development and population growth and housing and a whole variety of issues,” Mr. Hugg said, of developing a Comprehensive Plan.
“The 2008 (Comprehensive) Plan is on the city website, so you can go back and look at what the city committed to 10 years ago and where we are.

“The 2019 Comprehensive Plan project is also on the website, parts of the document as we’ve been preparing, you can go on the website and give your input. The planning staff looks forward to its completion and implementation.”

Plan ‘more than a list of goals’
The city’s Planning Department says the comprehensive plan will address many of the questions that arise when new people arrive in the city, such as: Where will they live? Where will they work? How will essential services be provided to them? And how can the city help its residents achieve a high quality of life?

The city of Dover’s goals for its’ new 2019 Comprehensive Plan are to report on the implementation status of the 2008 plan; add in recommendations from other plans and studies conducted over the past decade; assess the significance of demographic and economic changes; identify the city’s accomplishments and reflect on new trends that may factor into the city’s plan for growth.

Mr. Hugg said the comprehensive plan is more than just a list of goals, it also serves as an important informational, police and regulatory document.
Dover City Council and the planning commission use the plan as the foundation for rezoning, annexations and other land-use decisions.

The city’s Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map are required under state law to be in conformance with the comprehensive plan, meaning all changes to the city’s zoning laws and all zoning changes affecting how land can be used, must directly or indirectly support the goals of the plan.

Mayor Christiansen noted the importance of having a plan during his “State of the City” speech to city council in May.
“While we must certainly handle the day-to-day mundane tasks of the present, we must maintain and improve our infrastructure in anticipation of the next 300 years of success and prosperity,” Mayor Christiansen said.

“We are actively exploring opportunities that will support the infrastructure downtown, allow adequate parking for existing businesses and leave room for growth.

“We need to continue to maintain and improve the water system, our roadways and our electrical system – these are the arteries that keep our city moving forward. We must assess and candidly address these issues and the resources needed to do so.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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