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Improvement ideas unveiled

Greenfield Avenue from South 74th Street is part of a citizen group’s study on improving downtown, building stronger neighborhoods and creating more community special events.

Greenfield Avenue from South 74th Street is part of a citizen group’s study on improving downtown, building stronger neighborhoods and creating more community special events. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Aug. 20, 2014

West Allis — A plan that has West Allis arising from the imaginations of those who envision stronger neighborhoods, an improved downtown and special events such as Chill on the Hill was contained in a plan presented to the city's common council.

Two years in the making, the plan came from the strategic plan committee of 36 volunteers selected to represent as many facets of the city as possible.

Committee selections were based on achieving the best balance possible in terms of age, gender, race, occupation, location in the city, homeowners, renters, members of religious groups, civic, service and business organizations.

Having a city development plan fashioned by residents was the brainchild of aldermen Michael May and Cathleen Probst. They and Mayor Dan Devine worked together for a year to set up a framework for how a true citizen plan could evolve.

The plan committee took a another year to create its vision of a West Allis with stronger neighborhoods that celebrate the history and culture of the people who live there; a robust and diverse business community; more cultural arts; citizens engaged in their city because activities and opportunities are offered to them; and the use of sustainable "green" technologies in public and private projects.

"I think it's a great start," May said. "This is the compass and we need to come up with the road map."

"I am beyond pleased," Probst said. "They were insightful and thoughtful."

"I hope this will generate some progress," Devine said.

Beyond the specific suggestions the committee had for getting the city where it hopes it will go, the list of community values may be most valuable, May said.

"A lot of times the council does things because of what we think people value in the community and what we think people want," he said. But that list of values will be an extremely helpful guide when weighing decisions, he said.

"That will help us sitting there in a tough spot," he said. Now, aldermen will have a much better feel for what people value, May said.

To the officials' amazement, a number of things the citizens wanted were already being done or are in the works.

For example, the committee called for a written guide to help business people know the process they must follow to set up shop.

"That should be done this month," Devine said.

One of the most important goals in his view is the committee's call for strong neighborhoods.

"If you start with strong neighborhoods, a lot of other ones will come naturally," he said. And Devine has already started an initiative to promote neighborhood associations, with May and Probst being instrumental in getting a fund to help with that.

The committee also strongly called for more landlord training and Probst said that would go a long way to strengthen neighborhoods.

LET'S GET GOING

The Strategic Plan Committee made many suggestions as to how to get things going in the direction it advises. Among them:

FOR STRONG, SAFE, SECURE AND STABLE NEIGHBORHOODS:

· Increase the number of neighborhoods participating in the Block Watch Program by 40 percent by the end of 2014, 50 percent by the end of 2015, and 75 percent by the end of 2016.

· Design and implement a neighborhood association program that empowers and partners with interested citizens. Establish 10 neighborhood associations by the end of 2015.

· Provide signage and other street scaping elements to neighborhoods with established associations.

· Encourage residents to keep porch lights on to minimize crime.

· Develop and communicate screening tools and services for landlords.

· Contact owners of rental properties when police, health, or other contact is made with renters.

· Host an event, and/or implement a public relations campaign, promoting responsibilities of citizens and outlining a community vision by the end of 2016.

· Develop a "welcome wagon" program to share pertinent community information with new home owners (school, city and business information), and welcome new property owners to be active participants in their community.

MORE ROBUST, DIVERSE BUSINESSES

The Strategic Plan Committee recommendations are:

· Perform a community survey to identify the businesses desired in the community, revise zoning codes as necessary and seek those businesses that fit with citizen desires.

· Increase the notification radius for when properties are proposed to be rezoned, redeveloped, or applications for special use permits are made. Utilize tools in addition to mailed notifications to increase awareness.

· Establish an internal business liaison at City Hall to serve as the point person for businesses and to greatly minimize bouncing between departments and people.

· Revise zoning codes and the permit process as necessary to break down barriers to opening and maintaining a viable business.

· Prepare an "Open for Business" guide to help businesses understand the process they must follow to open a business.

· Make façade, infrastructure and other improvements to West Allis downtown and other commercial corridors that will attract businesses and residents.

· Develop a comprehensive strategy for business recruitment and implement the strategy.

· Introduce a business/entrepreneurial component/track to the school curriculum.

· Establish business mentoring services.

· Encourage outdoor dining.

· Provide customer service training to city inspectors and front‐line staff who work one‐on‐one with the public on a frequent basis.

· Tighten property maintenance enforcement.

· Review management and reporting structures of the West Allis Downtown BID and the Chamber of Commerce to reduce/eliminate redundancies; identify areas of improvement; apply strategic goals and measurements; and reward innovation and success.

· Remove or retime traffic signals in West Allis downtown to make the area a more desirable route for travel.

· Create a courtyard or park in West Allis downtown.

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