By Shelby Schroeder
The township is looking for its evolved direction.
HOWLAND — Ten years after Howland unveiled its first comprehensive plan of the township, the community is again defining itself — but now in 21st century terms.
A few residents and officials gathered in the administration building Thursday to discuss the first component of the township’s new comprehensive plan. Eventually assembled into an all-encompassing portrait of the township’s goals and values, the plan will stand as a guide for the next decade for everything from land use to local image.
“It’s a living, breathing document,” said Planning and Zoning Director Mark Zuppo. “It’s a product of people living in this community, [and] it evolves over time because we evolve.”
To assemble a revamped and cohesive plan, Zuppo said the city invested $117,000 in private consulting.
Representatives from Stantec, a private firm based in Canada, were present to lead the first public discussion on the township landmarks, logos and overall appearance. Hanging on the south and east walls of the meeting space were vibrant illustrations of how the community could look — if residents and the 15 member planning committee so wished.
The objective, said Stantec co-designer Jim Orr, was for the community to shape the designs with their criticism. Banner graphics, light posts, signs, benches and gathering spaces are all to be agreed upon.
“Think of this stage as a big brush,” he said. “Eventually we’ll refine and refine until this township is unique upon itself.”
Guests were asked to leave their seats to view the illustrations up close.
Equipped with Post-Its provided by Orr, residents were told to scrawl their commentary on the squares before sticking them in areas they found creative, pleasant or tacky.
Some notes declared sketches of township signs as “tombstones;” Others complained, “too modern — I don’t like this;” but some resident-written Post-Its offered alternative illustrations and approving messages like “This would go well near the gazebo.”
After returning to their seats, a public forum offered residents a conversational question-and-answer with the consultants.
Right away, some said the plan lacked inclusion.
“Where’s the educational component in this?” asked Scott Lehman, a school board member.
“Some of us from the school system hear that the schools are what bring people to Howland,” he said. “There should be more of an educational input.”
Lifetime Howland resident Maggie Kowach, 40, agreed. She later said that “The township and the school system go hand in hand, so you can’t have one without the other.”
Kowach was also a proponent of steering the design elements of the illustrations away from a “modern” feel, retaining the small township qualities of rustic, but contemporary.
“We don’t want to try to look like Columbus,” she said.
Orr and his colleague Glenn Grisdale promised residents their input would instruct their redesign of plans. Orr assured guests that the two would build and finesse the concepts for their approval.
At the close of forum, Zuppo said this first stage would “bleed into other phases of the program.”
Still to come, he said, are decisions on transportation, pedestrian spaces, economic development, environmental quality, housing and more.
Stantec and the planning committee will continue discussions and public forums as late as November, when the firm’s contract ends. By then the comprehensive plan is scheduled to be complete.
For more information on the project, visit www.planhowland.com.