WEST ALLIS — A common community streetscape and stronger property code enforcement are elements of a sweeping and energetic strategic master plan that officials hope will make West Allis the city of choice for residents and businesses.
The common council approved the strategic plan and has begun implementing it, although aldermen emphasize that implementation is only in its earliest stages. Even so, the vision is now there, having grown from a residential survey and input sessions and from focus groups with businesses and organizations.
A steering committee created the plan informed by the survey and input sessions and with help from the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
Trying to keep the plan from ending up on the shelf and ignored, the committee included a requirement that the plan be revisited at least twice a year.
"It's nothing more than a paperweight, if not acted upon," said Alderman Michael May who spearheaded the planning effort. "Without strategic planning, the city doesn't know where it's going."
Businesses have strategic plans, so should cities, he said.
"Any good organization is going to have it," May said.
The other main component of making West Allis into a city of choice is the people living in it, he said. This Phoenix plan calls for many committees, each biting off an element of the community to nurture. Those committees need people committed to helping the city rise.
"We need more than an apathetic community to turn the page," May said. Those who want to help fight crime, improve business vitality, sell the city, make it healthier and more beautiful and make its government more efficient are all needed and will make a difference, May said.
He encouragedto check out the strategic plan on the city's website, to figure out where they would like to fit in and to contact Mayor Dan Devine.
With the council having only recently approved the strategic plan, it is already going forward with part of it. Because West Allis has come a long way, it is now ready to trumpet its many winning features, said Alderman Tom Lajsic,
Selling a city
To do that, the city will work with a marketing consultant, he said. Added to that, the plan calls for creating a West Allis Farmers Market marketing plan that expands the market's role as a citywide and regional destination. A similar effort would be made to build on the West Allis Public Library's success as a city and countywide destination.
Beyond that, city officials are also searching for a new city image to project into the world.
That's where the proposed common streetscape comes in. That also is where planning and architecture could elevate the city's image, the plan says. Part of enhancing the city's look would be overhauling the city's zoning ordinance and site, landscaping and architectural policy to reflect urban design standards, the plan offers.
That also is where housing improvement goals come in. The plan suggests writing better building codes with more consequences. At the same time, it suggests offering more programs to help residents who need it. The city could offer incentives to help families maintain an aesthetically pleasing home exterior and efficient interior, the plan says.
The steering committee also suggests writing a new building code for older homes.
Finally, plans for creating a better image include increasing entertainment and specialty retail opportunities so that more people shop on their block.
Getting to how-to
The city has always had general goals in mind, "But now we're looking at how we will get there," said Alderman Marty Weigel. "Strategic planning is very important for a community. We're trying to move forward on many fronts."
The obvious constraint is money, however.
"We are not committed to implementing everything in the plan. Some elements have fiscal impacts," Weigel said.
The other four other initiatives in the plan are improving quality of life, enhancing citizen engagement, improving economic vitality, and excellence in government.
Citizen plan incorporated
The strategic plan weaves in elements of the 2014 citizen plan that 36 volunteers selected to represent as many facets of the city as possible, created. Those elements include initiatives on crime, enhancing the business community and encouraging neighborhood associations, three top priorities of the previous citizen plan. May and Alderwoman Cathleen Probst worked with the mayor for a year to set up a framework for how a true citizen plan could evolve.
Some of the 36 members also took part in this effort, May said.
To assist in crime fighting, the plan calls for assigning someone to apply for foundation grants to help pay for things such as body cameras for police officers to wear. Another suggested action is to look for and expand crime prevention strategies that work best.
The plan for bringing businesses into the city capitalizes partly on its ability to offer comparatively low rents to entrepreneurs who are just getting started. Building on that, the plan suggests leveraging additional resources that are attractive to these early-state entrepreneurs.
Beyond that, the plan for business suggests developing a market analysis, creating new lending programs and increasing funding for commercial facade grants and loans.
Making stronger neighborhoods by encouraging neighborhood associations would be the job of a proposed Neighborhood Association Council that would help associations form and thrive and would provide the city with information about code compliance issues and other factors harming neighborhoods, the plan says.
Neighborhood associations are critical, May said.
"When you know your community and invest in your community you are more likely to give your time, talent and treasure to make the community better," he said.
The plan contains a number of recommendations aimed at otherwise improving quality of life. They include improving park experiences to encourage people to enjoy the parks more, carry out the city's comprehensive park and recreation plan and engage neighborhoods in prioritizing parks and open space, listing proposed capital improvements.
For the parks
Key actions needed for this to happen include finding more money, perhaps through rental agreements, beer gardens and food trucks, the plan says. Creating a dog park, supporting a shared bicycle system and maintaining and expanding off-street bike trails also are targets.
Many suggestions involve city government itself. Those are likely to be the most expensive, but are aimed at keeping the city from running into a financial brick wall. For example, the plan suggests increasing the number of miles paved annually by 30 percent. That means upping the average from the current 2.7 miles per year to 3.5 miles. That translates into a sustainable 50-year paving cycle, the plan says.
The plan also calls for a capital improvements committee that will consider not only roads, but all capital improvements and work those needs into a sustainable plan that won't sock taxpayers.