Darrel Severns listens as Jeff Gottke speaks
Regional Planning Commission secretary Darrel Severns, right, listens as Jeff Gottke, Area Development Foundation president, speaks at the Nov. 16, 2023, RPC meeting. Credit: Cheryl Splain

MOUNT VERNON — Members of the Regional Planning Commission voted to let the Area Development Foundation take the lead in updating the county’s comprehensive plan.

The vote came following a discussion about the contents of a Request for Proposal (RFP) soliciting outside consultants to complete the plan.

RPC secretary Darrel Severns said the plan is a collaboration between the ADF, the planning commission, and the county commissioners.

“The intent is to hire a consultant because of the importance of getting a plan appropriate for what’s coming,” he said.

A volunteer committee completed the previous updates. However, the process has taken more than a year.

“We’re faced with growth and development pressure, so we should hire it out because of the time frame to get it done,” ADF President Jeff Gottke said.

He said the plan “creates a vision for who we want to be” and defines strategies for how to get there.

Gottke plans to release the RFP by Nov. 27 and select a consultant by Jan. 15, 2024. The project kickoff will be Feb. 1, 2024.

He said the reason for moving so quickly is because a state initiative relating to Ohio’s Appalachia region is closing. Consultants are looking to find work for the extra staff they hired for the project.

“If we can get this out, we can benefit from those beefed-up staffs,” Gottke said.

Scope of services

The consultant hired will be tasked with providing strategies for the following topics:

Housing: maximize growth while minimizing sprawl, focusing on in-fill and density while preventing the division of rural land into environmental and economically unsustainable lot sizes

Growth and land use: protect legacy farms and identify and create strategies to protect the county’s natural features

Transportation: identify easy ways to get around the county

Parks, trails, and recreation: better connect the trails to population centers and increase residents’ and visitors’ knowledge of recreation and trails

Plan for the Amish community: identify trends and integrate strategies related to transportation conflicts, land use, and farmland parcels

Economic and workforce resilience: integrate information from workforce and growth strategies to create high-paying, high-skill jobs, match the workforce to employers, and enhance community vibrancy

Land use and zoning: how or can we diversify yet preserve the agricultural community

Service delivery: identify strategies to provide levels of services we are accustomed to while accommodating more people

The consultant will also address preserving the character of the county’s close-knit rural communities and small-town charm and maintaining intergovernmental coordination and cooperation.

Mount Vernon

The Knox County commissioners and RPC will provide the funding for the consultant. The City of Mount Vernon might kick in some money if it decides to have a separate section addressing strategies for the city.

Gottke recommends that the city do so.

“The city has a number of existing plans and initiatives,” he said. “I think the idea is not to really create something new, but to make sure they all coordinate together.”

He noted that the city has 27 percent of the county’s population but accounts for 63 percent of consumer spending. It is also the major job center.

RPC members suggested the comprehensive plan should address solar. They also mentioned traffic at Upper Gilchrist and Coshocton Avenue, utilities and stress on the electric grid, and sprawl.

Severns suggested the plan should incorporate the villages’ plans, too.

Gottke said the process and plan must be transparent to secure community buy-in.

“We have to be mindful of landowner rights, too,” he said.

A Christian ultrarunner who likes coffee and quilting