DADE CITY — City commissioners approved a neighborhood planning program Tuesday night, with the goal of enlisting residents to help identify and address issues in their community.
The process will start with three neighborhoods that officials say have been historically overlooked: Habitat Village; East Lake Park and Victory Subdivision; and Mickens-Harper, where residents recently objected to plans for a sewer plant expansion crafted without their knowledge or input.
A steering committee will be developed in each neighborhood to work with city officials on future decisions about land use, city services and capital improvements. Officials agreed that residents' involvement will be essential.
"If I have to, I'll go door to door to spread the word," said Community Development Director Michael Sherman, who drafted the Neighborhood Planning Program. "The most important thing will be buy-in from the communities."
The folks from Mickens-Harper were already on the case, telling commissioners they've picked their committee members: Bermice Mathis, Clyde Carter, the Rev. Jesse McClendon, Tavaris Elliott and Levater Holt.
In the coming months, the committee in each neighborhood will work with officials to develop a clear picture of what types of businesses and development are mutually acceptable. It is up to the neighborhood associations to describe their vision and goals, to prioritize expenditures of public funds and to identify how they will protect city assets. In return, the Dade City Community Development Department and the Police Department will provide technical support, release all plans for revitalization and develop strategies to address neighborhood concerns.
There's no guarantee of funding for any neighborhood's request, but the plan will become a guide for commissioners, who can opt to include money for a project during their annual budget process.
"I've been toying with the Neighborhood Planning Program for a few months now," Sherman told the Times. "The idea is to give ownership of decisionmaking back to the communities."
In the case of Mickens-Harper, the process could help identify improvements for the neighborhood ball field — and, perhaps, develop a long-range plan for relocating the wastewater treatment plant that residents want gone.
"I think it's a great idea," Commissioner Camille Hernandez said of the planning effort. "This could be an introduction to fulfilling our promise to move the sewage plant."
But such a change could take decades. When residents pressed officials again Tuesday night on how long it might take before the city could build a new plant elsewhere, City Manager Billy Poe said it could be 25 to 30 years — longer than previous estimates. The city would first need to see enough growth to justify and support a new plant, officials have said.
The city has about 60 platted neighborhoods, and the goal is to expand the planning process to other communities after doing these first three. Hernandez stressed that time is of the essence.
"Let's get it started and keep it moving," she said.