Have a voice in the city’s future

For more than a year, the City of Weirton has been active in its efforts to update its Comprehensive Development Plan.

Working with Mackin Engineering, the goal is to create a guiding document to help set a path for the city over the next several years. It is not meant to be permanent, and is actually required by state law to be updated periodically.

That’s good because, as we’ve seen in recent years, a lot can change in a short amount of time.

When the current comprehensive plan was developed, leading to the creating of Weirton’s Unified Development Ordinance, much of what was included came through the input of elected officials and the city’s largest employers.

Things have been different this time around, with those involved holding town hall events, sending out surveys and creating focus groups with residents to see what the vision for Weirton’s future is; not just from those with the money and authority, but also the everyday person. After all, those are the ones who will most be affected by any changes.

Last spring, a town hall was held to discuss the goals of the update project, with around 80 residents in attendance. Last summer, a survey was offered, receiving approximately 700 responses. Groups focused on economic development, the arts and business have been held. This past Wednesday, another town hall was held, this time with around 30 residents, to help narrow the priorities for the plan.

There have been five main goals developed through this process, with one of the most prominent being a focus on the downtown area of Weirton.

I think we can all agree something is needed to rejuvenate downtown Weirton, although there will be numerous components and take many years.

It also won’t be entirely up to what comes out of this plan. City government can only do so much, after all. Officials can’t just snap their fingers and make everything change.

Much of what can be done is up to private property owners.

Other suggested areas of focus are in recreation, with particular attention to the possible extension of the Panhandle Recreation Trail into the downtown, and a larger emphasis on the arts in the city.

Efforts to grow the arts have been going on in recent years, with a new theater group formed, an art gallery opened and new festivals focusing on our history and culture are being organized.

An extension of the Panhandle Trail has long been sought, and could help to enhance the city’s economy, but, again, part of the plan relies on private property owners.

Weirton was built up as a steel town. Much of the community grew because of the steel industry.

Weirton isn’t a steel town anymore. Natural gas is becoming a larger part of the local economy, but primarily we are seeing more growth in the service industry, medical and small businesses. We are seeing our residents open up their own shops, with new restaurants, pastry shops, craft stores, technology-based operations and more.

We are on a constant search for a new identity, and this comprehensive plan update is a part of that search.

The people of the city need to have a voice in what Weirton should be, and these hearings and surveys and meetings are an opportunity to express those voices and opinions.

There is still time to be a part of the process. It is usually a topic of discussion during the city’s Planning Commission meetings, which are open to the public.

Following Wednesday’s town hall, officials will begin to finalize the plan’s draft document.

From there, both the Planning Commission and Weirton Council also must hold public hearings. This will be one more opportunity for the people to express their thoughts and wishes.

I’ve seen the changes in the community, and I’m sure more are on the way.

I would hope more of Weirton’s residents want to be a part of blazing the path for the city’s future.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)