Comprehensive plan process moving forward

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Local leaders and a consulting firm have kicked off the process for a new plan that will shape the county’s future.

The company is analyzing initial feedback from those leaders; a steering committee has formed to guide the process; and the first of several opportunities for the public to weigh in is available.

Vandewalle & Associates, with offices in Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio, is assisting the county with its new comprehensive plan, called Future Hancock. The plan will include visions for land use and thoroughfares along with an economic development strategy. It will serve as a blueprint for those elements along with future growth, housing, parks, public services and related topics. Future Hancock will replace the county’s current comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2005 and underwent an in-house update in 2012.

The new plan has an 11-member steering committee of leaders from throughout the county representing agriculture, government, economic development, education and other areas.

The project also has a website, futurehancock.com, where visitors can learn more about the plan’s process and contribute thoughts. They’ll also be able to stay up to date on future public events regarding the plan, which will include pop-up events and open houses.

Vandewalle & Associates held meetings in August with the steering committee and focus groups made up of parts of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners, Hancock County Council and Hancock County Area Plan Commission along with county department heads and city and town managers.

“These kick-off conversations focused on key issues and opportunities in the county as well as input on future visions for the county,” Meredith Perks, an associate planner with Vandewalle & Associates and project coordinator for Hancock County’s comprehensive plan team, told the Daily Reporter in an email. “This stage of the process is about gathering information on the current conditions and issues in the county and identifying goals and opportunities for the future. We are interested in gathering input from diverse stakeholders, including county staff, elected officials, as well as the public.”

Perks said issues raised during the kick-off conversations included a desire to maintain a small-town feel while providing more quality-of-place amenities like parks, trails and shopping. Another was the need for a thoughtful plan for the Mt. Comfort Corridor logistics and warehouse developments. Perks added expanding economic opportunity for county residents like improved access to current jobs, attracting quality jobs, and talent development and retention opportunities are also important to stakeholders.

“We understand that there is a strong rural and agricultural heritage and character in the county and that recent development and economic activity, particularly on the west side of the county, is bringing new pressures,” Perks said. “A goal of the comprehensive plan is to identify a unifying future vision for the county. We want to understand and communicate what Hancock County wants to be in the future. From there, the comprehensive plan will provide recommendations and strategies on how to achieve this vision.”

Vandewalle & Associates is also in the early stages of data collection and analysis, which the firm plans to wrap up by late fall, Perks said.

Over the next couple of months, the firm will engage with the public to share information about the planning process and collect input.

“We will be at various community events to meet the public, share information on the comprehensive plan, and gather feedback on what they envision for the future of Hancock County,” Perks said. She added a date and time are being finalized for a Community Visioning workshop slated for the end of October.

Vandewalle & Associates plans to bring a Vision and Strategic Framework forward by the end of the year that will serve as the foundation for the other comprehensive plan elements. Early next spring, initial drafts will be ready for an economic development strategy, land use map and thoroughfare plan, with the initial draft of the full comprehensive plan following in the early summer of 2022. Consideration of final adoption by the county plan commission and county commissioners is planned for early fall 2022.

“It may sound like a long time, but it’s actually a pretty ambitious schedule,” said Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Area Plan Commission.

Dale expects the steering committee to meet every three to four months to review the status of Vandewalle & Associates’ work and to give the firm direction.

“It’s exciting, and overwhelming because the scope is so broad and entails a large amount of input from the various elements of our community,” Dale said. “And even more, it’s overwhelming because we really want this project to represent the needs and desires of the property owners and business owners across all of Hancock County.”

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Hancock County comprehensive plan steering committee

  • Jonathan Sparks, Indiana Farm Bureau District 6 director
  • Ryan Maxfield, general manager of Indy Jet, based at Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mt. Comfort
  • Mary Gibble, president of Hancock County Community Foundation
  • Bill Spalding, Hancock County commissioner
  • Jeannine Gray, Hancock County Council member
  • April Fisher, vice president of Hancock Economic Development Council and vice president of legal and analytics at NineStar Connect
  • Steve Long, president and CEO of Hancock Health and Hancock Regional Hospital
  • Michael Burrow, president and CEO of NineStar Connect
  • Jack Parker, superintendent of Mt. Vernon schools, representing Hancock County schools
  • Jason Faucett, Shirley resident
  • Pat Haley, Spring Lake resident

Gary Pool, Hancock County engineer; Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council; and Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Area Plan Commission, will work with the committee as staff.

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To learn more about the Hancock County Comprehensive Plan planning process, contribute thoughts or find out about upcoming public events, visit futurehancock.com or email [email protected].

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“A goal of the comprehensive plan is to identify a unifying future vision for the county. We want to understand and communicate what Hancock County wants to be in the future.”

Meredith Perks

Vandewalle & Associates planner and project coordinator

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