Comprehensive plans for parks, economic development in the works for BG

The Bowling Green Planning Commission in February voted to forward two updates to sections of the city’s comprehensive plan to council for consideration.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend both the parks and recreation and economic development sections to council.

Wednesday’s meeting marked the first time the commission had met since Jan. 5; the February meeting was canceled due to inclement weather.

According to a memo sent to the commission by Planning Director Heather Sayler, the proposed five-year parks and recreation plan was drafted after community focus group meetings were held, a recreational needs survey was sent to a random selection of households, and there was preparation of financial needs documents, along with park board, park foundation and staff retreats.

The park board received the plan at their November meeting, where the emphasis continued on maintenance and partnering with organizations on projects.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Kristin Otley addressed the commission about the plan.

“There’s a lot in there that we’re really looking forward to getting to work on,” she said.

The highlights include an inclusive playground project, outdoor pickle ball courts and disc golf course upgrades at Carter Park.

There is also paving the loop and parking lots and adding a walking trail, reconfiguring the horseshoe area and adding shade structures by the baseball diamond and skate park at City Park.

The plan is also to continuing paving trails and adding two additional in-progress sculptures at Simpson Garden Park; replacing the HVAC system at the Wintergarden/St. John’s Woods nature center; and adding or upgrading cameras and converting all outdoor restrooms to timed locks throughout the parks.

“As with all plans, this is a living, breathing, fluid document,” Otley said.

Regarding the economic development section update, a memo by Sayler to the commission noted that the current, 14-page economic development section was originally approved in 1987, and updated in 1996 and 1998. The overall theme of the document was not changed.

“With new leadership at the Bowling Green Economic Development organization, increased interest by City Council, and the overall desire to align economic development goals with recent city planning documents, the result has been the update to this section,” the memo continued.

Bowling Green Economic Development Director Kati Thompson provided the draft to council’s Finance Committee in January, resulting in its referral to planning commission.

The draft, the memo states, was written following a six-month strategic planning process conducted through Bowling Green Economic Development and “the outcome of the strategic planning process informed the overarching goals and activities of economic development efforts in Bowling Green, and are reflected in the proposed draft.”

Sayler’s memo notes the proposed one-page update is “much more strategic in nature and in brevity for several reasons,” among them that it is “meant to be more complementary to the other recent city planning documents and processes, where much time and investment has already been spent.”

And “the world of economic development changes rapidly with technology and other factors out of our control that too many details can be overburdensome and lead to more frequent and unnecessary plan updates.”

Further, “the focus on overarching goals, similar to the seven Bowling Green Principles in the Future Land Use Plan, will allow for the helpful guidance for economic development decision-making processes.”

Thompson, in her remarks to the commission on Wednesday, said that she wanted the draft to be a comprehensive plan and capture the major goals while allowing the city to be nimble.

“I didn’t want to go into a ton of great detail in the plan unless it’s the intent of all of you to update this on an annual basis,” Thompson said.

She highlighted the plan’s four strategic economic development goals: Sustained economic growth, Infrastructure and Utility Development, Encouraging Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Improve Quality of Life.

Commission Chair Bob McOmber and Judy Ennis both praised the brevity of the update draft.

“This is a joy because it’s generic enough that you know what you’re going to be doing” but frequent updates aren’t required, Ennis said.

Commission member Mark Remeis suggested that an additional bullet point addressing redevelopment or change of use be added to the document’s section on key economic development efforts. Member Will Airhart suggested the wording “Identify opportunities for redevelopment.”

That addition was approved unanimously.