Ian Lockwood of Toole Design Group was back at the drawing board this week for the City of Sulphur Springs. Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell brought Lockwood on in 2007 as the designing force behind the successful renovations to downtown and Celebration District and Plaza.
On Monday a City Wide Comprehensive Planning Event was held at the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center hosting nearly 200 in attendance. Through this provided much sought public input with an additional 600 people participating in the online survey.
On Thursday night Lockwood and his team translated their draft findings for the public at City Hall Council Room. The proposed draft vision statement was “Sulphur Springs is the best small city in Texas for raising a family, celebrating life, and doing business.”
He defined a comprehensive plan as the official, long range planning document that provides policy guidance for future growth, development, land use, infrastructure, and services – “foundation for every part of your planning.”
He said the surveys gave a better insight to the first impressions of the City. In his explanation of the pie charts presented he noted citizens are aligned with the historical character and would like to see this enhanced and reflected in new construction.
He showed before and after photos relating that the Plaza in Sulphur Springs is now one of the “most admired across the Country” while adding value to the City.
Presenting the desires Lockwood gave “what’s working.” He said the most widely desired were “great streets, family friendly, more jobs, shopping options and small town values.”
“Keep spreading the charm,” said Ian Lockwood of Toole Design Group. “You need to reward reinvestment in downtown.” The vacant properties near the core of the City need utilized.
A big concern was with sprawl and the impact it could cause on the City’s utilities and aging infrastructure with some parts over 50 years old. He also addressed the parking issues saying every nice downtown has parking issues.
“A connected park system is a goal that you are well on your way to completing,” said Lockwood on future plans for “Town Branch.” Town Branch is the drainage area near the City Police Department which has been underway for several years. “This cool feature could be your very own Riverwalk while also reducing flooding to keep with the open space connected system.”
He gave recommendations for a more “fabric road network to keep the small town feel” with smaller two lane roads with stop signs as opposed to multi-lane roads with stop lights. Having a plan will make it easier to work with the Texas Department of Transportation in the future, especially since there are 123 miles of City streets to be maintained. Many citizens commented how they would like to see more character added to streets, especially those entering the City.
“You have a fantastic water treatment plant and water strategy,” said Lockwood. “You do more with less in utilities with an incredibly creative staff.” He also added a solar farm as a potential “green” option for the recently inherited mining acreage. He touched on the land use type zoning in reference to the rural, urban and suburban areas of Sulphur Springs.
“What’s not working: underground utilities, arrival into downtown, parking [how it is managed], signs, clean streets [work on code enforcement],” said Lockwood. “We want to change the climate… to stay inside the pentagon-shaped area of the City.”
“How do we get there?” said Lockwood as he gave actions leading to financing. “It is in our collective interest to each pay enough [property taxes] to keep up with the maintenance on our streets and utilities.”
To make some of the necessary adjustments, Lockwood proposed a property tax increase from 44 to 59 cents per $100 to prevent any decline. He offered impact fees, grants, crowd-funding and explore saving opportunities with Hopkins County as other possible sources of money.
He emphasized the need for Sulphur Springs to stay competitive as well as consistent and consider bringing new shopping opportunities downtown especially for those residing within walking distance. He and his team will work closely with City staff ensuring transparency and understandable details to help guide the City into the next phase.
“Vision and predictability will attract industry. There is a really clear vision here of what the City wants to be in the long run. This is very appealing. The predictability comes from having a plan… having all the ingredients in place,” said Lockwood. “You can provide, here in a small city, things that can’t be provided in a large city. Maintaining a high quality of life… and celebrating strengths will keep Sulphur Springs on the edge of the market.”
The Toole Design Group will be outlining the action items – priorities – finalizing the plan with the staff at the City of Sulphur Springs.
“You just have to keep the momentum up and not get complacent,” advised Lockwood during the inquiry phase of the meeting. The wall of the council room had all the notes and aspects of the research displayed. Lockwood was appreciative of the hospitality. During this process, he said there was an abundance of help from city and county officials, business people, and regular citizens to make this happen.
“A real community effort – everybody who came and participated – loves this City and cares about it deeply and I think that came through in the values and we are going to get an agreement in a matter we want it to go,” said Lockwood in closing.
In the history books the vision for Main Street Sulphur Springs was presented by City Manager Marc Maxwell on July 3, 2007, excavation began on June 3, 2008 followed quickly by façade grants, and the grand opening ceremony was held on schedule on Oct. 6, 2008.