City planners set up tables in the Newberry municipal building Tuesday and listened to citizen concerns and recommendations about the community’s growth plans.
The city’s open house was the first of a series as planners work to construct a vision for Newberry’s next few decades of development.
Florida cities are required to routinely update their comprehensive plans. Newberry only has three professional planners, according to Gerry Dedenbach, executive vice president of CHW Professional Consultants, whose seven planners the city hired to help create a plan.
CHW’s team came to the open house to collect public input in what they call the data analysis portion of the comprehensive plan update. Armed with sticky notes, maps, and markers, the team worked to find themes in what the citizens said.
“You have to go from likes and dislikes, to consensus, to where things will happen in the city’s future,” Dedenbach said.
The Newberry citizens in attendance had plenty to talk about. Many of the sticky notes on various posters and maps reflected a concern over the town’s rapid expansion and development, and how it will affect Newberry’s small-town feel.
Kim Baxter, a CHW project assistant, listened throughout the evening to catch general themes as citizens drifted between experts in landscape architecture, geographic information systems, and more. Baxter said the negative concerns were easy to hear, but she tried to listen for positives: What do people like about living in Newberry?
“They’re not opposed to the development,” Baxter said. “They’re opposed to the traffic and the people.”
Newberry gains about 350 people and issues about 135 residential building permits each year, according to Mike New, the city manager. New said the city has maintained a steady 5% growth rate for the last 20 years, and that many citizens have an outsized perception of that growth.
However, with an average of two residential building permits per week, and about 130 new families a year, Newberry’s growth is still twice the expected rate of most cities, according to Dedenbach.
Kai Porro has lived in Newberry for 20 years and worries the town is shifting to accommodate people who drive through, but do not live there. She said she was especially concerned about roadway developments that could increase traffic on State Road 26, as well as smaller streets like 1st Ave.
“I have seen people ride their horses on that street,” Porro said. “They’re not going to be riding their horses there anymore.”
Porro said she values the rural nature of downtown and wants to preserve it instead of catering to commuters.
Jeff Holcomb is also concerned about Newberry’s rural atmosphere. He lives two miles outside the town’s urban services area, which means he does not receive utilities from the city. He wants to keep it that way.
Holcomb came to the open house to hear about Newberry’s plans for future industrialization and to ask for more restrictions and buffers between rural citizens like himself and developments like a new solar farm. He said he would like to see revitalization in the downtown area, but he wants rurality outside the downtown to remain intact.
“I’m just worried about growing responsibly,” Holcomb said. “I just feel like we are growing too fast, and we’re losing that kind of small-town feel, and we’re losing that agricultural appeal.”
After the open house, CHW will transform the piles of sticky notes into matrixes to look for commonalities and figure out what goals the town should focus on in years to come.
Gerry Dedenbach said he expects the process of envisioning and amending the town’s new comprehensive plan to take about eight months. During that time, the planners will hold monthly workshops to glean continuous feedback from the community.
“This is all about garnering input of a vision of ‘what do you want your community to look like in 10, 15, 20, 25 years?’” Dedenbach said.