County selects comprehensive plan consultant

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HANCOCK COUNTY — By a narrow vote, planning officials have chosen a Midwest firm to help update a plan that guides how the county develops in the future.

Leaders’ next task is to negotiate a price, which will likely be six figures.

The upcoming update of the county’s comprehensive plan will include visions for land use and thoroughfares along with an economic development strategy. It’ll be the first revision in almost a decade and is expected to take up to 18 months.

Hancock County Plan Commission members recently voted 4-3 in favor of hiring Vandewalle & Associates to provide consulting services for the comprehensive plan update. The firm has offices in Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio. Its website lists projects in several states, including a redevelopment and revitalization effort in Muncie and an economic vision and manufacturing strategic plan for Anderson, Muncie and New Castle.

Plan commission members Byron Holden, Michael Long, Tom Nigh and Renee Oldham voted in favor of selecting Vandewalle & Associates while Bill Bolander, Wendell Hester and Bill Spalding voted against.

The firm was one of 13 from across the Midwest and eastern U.S. to submit proposals, which plan commission members narrowed down to three before making their decision.

Oldham said at the plan commission meeting that all three were excellent, but felt Vandewalle & Associates was best after listening to presentations and checking references. She added the firm has extensive expertise in disciplines the plan commission shares; understands the commission’s role in applying the comprehensive plan; and recognizes the balance needed for the plan to be successful.

“The economic piece and the thoroughfare piece are important pieces, but they’re complementary to the comprehensive plan,” Oldham said.

Vandewalle & Associates also understands the the importance of involving public feedback in the plan update process, she said.

“Engagement with the community I think is so, so critical as we are a growing community that is bringing lots of different factors into it,” she said.

Total costs in the 13 proposals ranged from about $150,000 to $300,000, Dale told the Daily Reporter. He was reluctant to disclose the fee Vandewalle & Associates submitted, explaining the final number has yet to be negotiated and that he expects it to be lower than what’s proposed.

Whatever it was, it didn’t sit well with Bolander, one of the three nay votes.

“I know we’re not talking about the contract, but if we use them, we’re not going to pay that much,” he said at the meeting.

Choosing the firm doesn’t lock the county into the proposed scope of work or fee, Dale said.

“If, for whatever reason we’re unable to reach an agreement in the form of a contract, you know that there are still two others, or even 12 other consulting firms that would be very eager to have the work,” he told commission members.

The county and Vandewalle & Associates will next negotiate a contract. If successful, the Hancock County Council will appropriate funding for the comprehensive plan update.

Hancock County’s comprehensive plan was adopted in 2005 and underwent an in-house update in 2012.

Consultants will assist in the next update by performing studies to determine the highest and best land uses for different parts of the county, Dale said.

“And they will also do an analysis of the local demographics and financial engines, if you will, in the county and around the county to arrive at a good strategy for economic growth in the county,” he said.

The thoroughfare plan will consist of an inventory of all roads and streets along with determinations on what kinds of improvements will be necessary to accommodate the new land use plan and economic development strategy, Dale continued.

State law requires Indiana counties to have comprehensive plans if they have zoning ordinances. When the Hancock County Plan Commission considers petitions from landowners to have their land rezoned to a different classification so they can carry out different uses, one of the commission members’ tasks is to determine whether that change aligns with the county’s comprehensive plan.

“Also, a comprehensive plan is valuable for persons and businesses considering relocating to Hancock County, so they know how the county intends to grow over time,” Dale said.

Those who live and work in Hancock County will have ample opportunity to weigh in on the plan update.

“Public involvement will be a critical part of this process in writing and adopting the comprehensive plan,” Dale said.

The public will be invited to participate in a series of workshops and meetings, he continued, adding consultants will likely attend community events to speak directly with residents too. There will be a web page for submitting feedback as well.

Dale estimated the process will take 12 to 18 months, and likely closer to 18.

“We’re very excited about this, and we are also very excited because this project wraps economic development and the thoroughfare plan into land use,” he said. “It’s really taking ‘comprehensive’ to a new level by bringing those two other disciplines into play. We should have a very good and modern and well-considered comprehensive plan when this is completed.”

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The county’s comprehensive plan was written in 2005 and updated in 2012. It guides county planners as they determine the best uses for property in the county. State law requires counties to have such blueprints if they have zoning ordinances.

This edition of the plan will also include an an inventory of all roads and streets along with determinations on what kinds of improvements will be necessary in the future.

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