City looks at launching comprehensive plan

KEVIN HARVISON | Staff photoKarl Stickley, Professional Engineer and senior vice president of the Guernsey engineering, architectural and consulting firm, foreground, is joined by Meg Nealon, owner of Nealon Planning, at City Hall as they discuss the city of McAlester's Comprehensive Plan, developed by the two firms.

The city of McAlester is making plans to launch the city's comprehensive plan — called Moving McAlester Forward 2040.

City personnel met Wednesday with representatives of the consulting firms that created the 20-year plan, helping to form several different possibilities about how to best move it forward.

The city was already in the process of doing several things suggested by the plan, such as taking steps to revitalize downtown and working on infrastructure. Creating more walking and bicycle trails — also mentioned in the plan — are also already underway by the city.

"It's nice to get reinforcement we are doing most of the things the plan suggests we do, especially with the work downtown and the infrastructure work we've been doing," McAlester Mayor John Browne said Thursday.

Browne referred to the action city councilors took Tuesday night, awarding contracts to replace a 30-inch water line atop the dam at Lake McAlester and as 20-inch water line near where the "old" water treatment plant stood.

Other aspects of the comprehensive plan, such as trying to improve the availability of more mid-level or middle class housing and apartments, may not be so easy to achieve.

"The thing I think is our biggest problem is a lack of housing," Browne said. He maintains the city should pursue "any way we can improve it, to make it easier for developers" to build houses and apartments, the mayor continued.

Some steps have already been taken, he noted, with the reduction of the size of a lot required for new home construction.

"We went from 6,000 square feet to to 4,500 square feet," Browne said.

Karl Stickley, senior vice president of Guernsey, which is an engineering, architectural and consulting firm with an Oklahoma city office, presented a portion of the plan, followed by Meg Nealon, president of Nealon Planning, in North Carolina. City councilors and members of the McAlester Planning Commission heard the final details Tuesday during a special meeting at City Hall.

Nealon spoke of the importance of economic development and asked "Where do you think McAlester will be 20 years from now?"

She noted the plan concludes the city should concentrate on four areas: Downtown McAlester, Old Town, the Main Street corridor, especially from downtown to Old Town; and the corridor from U.S. Highway 69, to Wade Watts Avenue and Wyandotte Avenue.

"These are places where you have that great opportunity to say who you are," she said.

Among the ideas resented to councilors in the plan were encouraging development and promoting areas of open spaces not currently served by utilities.

"Focus on downtown as the heart of the community and the region," Nealon said.

Following the presentation, councilors initiated the formal adoption of the Comprehensive Plan.

That led to the consultants Wednesday meeting with city staff.

"There were about 15 of us in the meeting," said City Manager Pete Stasiak. "We worked through five different scenarios on five different ideas."

One matter discussed Wednesday dealt with public safety and public awareness of crime, including ways of getting more of a police presence in neighborhoods. That doesn't mean the city plans to hire more police officers.

"We want to try and get more officers on the neighborhoods; more officers teaching and educating in the neighborhoods about things like Neighborhood Watch," Stasiak said.

More staff meetings are planned as the city looks to hone in on aspects of the plan. Stasiak said the city staff plans to put together a prioritized list to present to city councilors in about three weeks.

"Even more important is to have quarterly meetings with city councilors," to keep them informed of the progress, he said.

Asked about what the city can do to help with resolving the need for more middle class or mid-level housing or apartments, Stasiak said the city should "make sure the process is user-friendly.

"If somebody wants to come in and build, we have to have the right rules and regulations that makes it easy for them," he said. That includes having the right people in place, he said.

Stasiak said he felt impressed by the public participation in developing the plan. That's why he maintains it's so important to get it right as the plan moves forward.

"It's pretty exciting," said Stasiak.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.egulatioins that makes it easy for them," 

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