City Plan Commission Unveils Kinder, Friendlier Public Approach
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point City Plan Commission met Monday before a packed house, showcasing a new format designed to engage the public- the PowerPoint.
PowerPoint presentations- an overhead computer display of documents and pictures designed for visibility of large groups- typically had been reserved for highlights of large-scale projects by the Dept. of Transportation or construction companies, to include the Bus. 51 project.
Outside of those circumstances items such as maps, photos site plans and other elements relevant of the discussion remained within the confines of the meeting agenda packet, leaving attendees guessing unless they were willing to print out packets of paper often exceeding more than 100 pages.
Monday’s Plan Commission meeting was a short one, which included consideration of a nonconforming sign on Division Street for a new soft serve/gourmet popcorn business, as well as plans for two additional buildings at a Bush St. apartment complex. The high number of residents in attendance were able to follow the meeting with the Powerpoint more closely than previous meetings, thanks in part to Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski.
“I think it’s just going to be easier for everyone, not only on the Commission to see the presentation, but also the audience,” Ostrowski said. “When they’re up there trying to discuss a site and refer to an item on the site plan, not everybody can see it, so this makes things a little bit easier for them to see and understand the process.”
Ostrowski has of late been reaching out for more public input. In May he announced his department would hold roundtable-style meetings to involve the public in the city’s comprehensive plan updates. Those meetings have been held, with varying degrees of attendance, in each of the city’s 11 districts since August, with another coming up on Thursday at Bannach Elementary.
Ostrowski, who interned for interim Mayor Gary Wescott during Wescott’s previous administration, said he’s also working to bring back public hearings at Plan Commission meetings. That dedicated time slot for public input before the commissioners, he said, was a regular occurrence under Wescott and he doesn’t know the reason for the change.
“I tried to get them back, but it was denied,” Ostrowski said. “If they (public hearing comments) can be brought back to the Plan Commission, having those public hearings is going to be greatly beneficial; you hear all the info [sic] first hand, you learn something new and you don’t have to bring something back to the Plan Commission again. We want to see good turnout for those.”
Monday also marked Wescott’s return to the mayor’s chair through April. He was unanimously elected to fill the position through the spring election after Halverson left office early for a job in the private sector.
Wescott, who has a background in news journalism, gave Ostrowski all the credit for the increased transparency on Monday.
“The Powerpoint was his idea,” Wescott said. “But that’s been my personality, too; I don’t think you can have too much information. I’m the type to give a lot of information. Let’s give that information so everyone can see it. We always did the public hearings when I was mayor. We did it that way for 12 years.”
The Commission elected interim Mayor Gary Wescott as chairman through April, when a new mayor will be elected and likely take over the spot.