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Strafford awaits approval of new strategic plan

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Strafford’s comprehensive planning process that began in mid-2019 is set to conclude this month, as city officials are asked to approve the document last addressed in 2003.

The Southwest Missouri Council of Governments has partnered with the city throughout the eight-month process, working with Strafford staff, residents and a comprehensive plan committee to develop the near 100-page document. Officials organized a kickoff meeting in June, followed by an online community survey in July that collected public input about the city, meant to develop goals and objectives.

The latest action is a community open house held Jan. 17 at Strafford High School to take additional feedback on the plan to help prioritize objectives. SMCOG officials say residents at the school event determined a trio of goals for the city: ensure truck traffic has as little impact as possible, encourage more business diversity along Pine Street, and concentrate higher impact development along the Interstate 44 corridor, rail corridor, and eastern and western edges of city limits.

The goals line up with those suggested in the plan, said City Administrator Martha Smartt.

“It’s been very fascinating to see the public communicate their desires and needs for the community,” she said, adding the plan update process had just gotten off the ground last summer when she succeeded the retiring Steve Bodenhamer.

She said the city spent $12,720 on the plan update, with funds split over two budget years.

Think comprehensively
SMCOG covers a 10-county region, leading to frequent collaborative projects with municipalities. Some involve grant writing, transportation plans and mitigation plans. Brandon Jenson and Megan Clark with SMCOG have been involved in the project since the beginning.

Clark, a senior planner, said SMCOG also recently worked with the cities of Billings, Ozark, Buffalo and Fair Grove on comprehensive plan updates. She added Battlefield, Nixa and Branson are all slated for updates later this year.

“We’re constantly in comprehensive plan mode,” she said.

While comprehensive plans are generally considered a 20-year long-term document, Clark said they probably should be updated every decade instead of waiting the 16 years that officials in Strafford did.

“Most communities wait longer than 10 years and it has to do with resources and timing,” she said, adding the leadership transition from Bodenhamer to Smartt was not a challenge in the document update process.

“You get this dichotomy of perspectives,” Jenson said. “It’s been really helpful to get those two views.”

Last July’s online survey generated more than 400 responses – equating to around a 25% response rate, Jenson said. Similar comprehensive plan surveys SMCOG produce generally get a 10%-20% rate, he noted. Some of that boost was attributed to hard copies left at local businesses and visiting the senior center to conduct in-person surveys.

Jenson said the responses were largely in line with feedback he and Clark received at the open house. People want to see some growth in the city, but at a managed level in regard to impact on traffic and infrastructure.

Smartt said there’s no defined level for managed growth in Strafford, but added the city is currently at work on a master plan for infrastructure to meet water and sewer demands for the next 10-15 years. She expects that plan to be mostly finished by year’s end.

There’s also a desire to build up business in the downtown Pine Street area, which is a mixed use of retail, office and government. Those also are goals sought by the plan, Jenson said, which encourages the city to look for development, redevelopment and rehabilitation opportunities in the area. According to the plan, the feasibility of a community improvement district should be studied as a future possibility.

Development work has been ongoing along Pine Street, Smartt said, pointing to renovations Common Grounds Coffee & Cafe LLC owner Michele Eden is doing to a building adjacent to her shop. Smartt said the area is best suited for retail shops, and properties remain available.

Boosting the business presence on Pine Street is welcomed by Amanda Alexander, who owns Lil Wildflower Boutique, 112 E. Pine St.

The boutique owner, who also works for Murney Associates, Realtors, served as a comprehensive plan committee member. As a 10-year resident, she said more housing is needed.

“There’s not enough on the market for the demand of people wanting to be in the area,” she said, adding her real estate listings are mostly in Marshfield and Aurora at this time.

Smartt said one announced housing development could help that shortcoming, as a multifamily project dubbed The Willows calls for roughly 100 units of duplexes and quadplexes near the intersection of routes DD and 125. She said developer Bryant Edgeman expects to break ground later this year.
 
Future growth
Some of the future city commercial growth is tied to a multimillion-dollar industrial park with rail access under development on 220 acres near Interstate 44 and the BNSF Railway Co. line. St. Louis-based occupational footwear company Warson Group Inc. is the park’s first signed tenant.

The Southwest Missouri Rail and Business Park, announced last fall, should soon have approval by the city to break ground on the development, Smartt said.

Another project coming online will serve as a draw to youth, Smartt said. The Strafford Sports Center, a 33,200-square-foot private development by Micki and Troy McShane, is set to open the week of Feb. 16, according to its website.

The project includes four indoor basketball courts, a kids’ zone gaming area and a concession stand.

As projects continue for the town of nearly 2,500 residents, Smartt said she wants city officials to be responsive to the public and steward the growth carefully.

“We need to be mindful to strategically plan the future around the comprehensive plan,” she said.

Draft versions of the plan can be accessed at StraffordMo.net or as a print version at Strafford City Hall during business hours. 

Plan feedback was slated to be collected through Feb. 9, Jenson said, with the next step to present the final document before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Feb. 10.

That meeting will include a public hearing for additional discussion. If approved by the commission, the item moves to the Board of Aldermen for a vote at its Feb. 17 meeting.

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