Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Population affecting everything," planner tells OC council.

from The Derrick:

A dismal economy, bleak housing outlook, a declining population and other ills are at the heart of a multi-municipal study now under way that aims to eventually identify nagging problems and offer specific remedies.

An update on what is called the Oil City-Cornplanter-Rouseville Comprehensive Plan was presented by planning consultant Tom Graney of GCCA Associates of Grove City to Oil City Council on Monday.

Oil City's challenges as well as attributes were outlined in Graney's brief presentation of a plan that will take several more months to complete.

"The bottom line � population loss in the area is affecting everything, ... particularly housing," Graney told council.

In the last eight years, Oil City has lost 8 percent of its population (2008: 10,598). Rouseville has dropped by 8.5 percent while Cornplanter lists a decline of 5.6 percent.

Graney said a bright spot in his study to date includes a projection that shows "a modest increase over the next 10 years in the (Oil City) school system," a statistic he said is very unusual for western Pennsylvania school districts.

Housing remains a critical issue within the three municipalities, Graney said. Oil City has fewer owner-occupied homes than its counterparts and it has a high percentage (9.7 percent) of vacancies.

A "windshield survey" done by Graney and others showed 485 Oil City homes that need substantial rehabilitation, are considered dilapidated or are listed as condemned.

"But, we estimate the actual number is between 550 and 560, or about 15 percent of all (Oil City) housing units," Graney said.

The study will eventually lay out a series of remedies that will include a call for stricter code enforcement, an aggressive demolition program, switching much of R-2 zoning to R-1 "to protect existing single family areas and discourage conversions," accelerate first-time buyer programs, launch local pride initiatives, establish a "land bank" to buy/rehab/sell/raze dilapidated homes and more.

Other factors

In the public service sector, the city's police and fire departments need equipment and vehicle replacements, Graney said. Parks and playgrounds should be evaluated to determine "what the city wants to have." Playgrounds in poor condition, such as Pierce Avenue and Halyday Street, should either be fixed "or mothballed," he said.

The city's public water and sewer systems are in need of substantial updates in equipment and service lines, Graney told council. Much of that work is under way.

Education facilities are a major plus for the city, said Graney who called attention to the Oil City Area School District as a system that is "looking to engage students."

"And I am tremendously impressed by Venango Campus...(which is) truly innovative," said the consultant.

Other city resources that influence how the comprehensive plan will be developed are the Oil City Library, chosen by survey respondents as "the most popular facility in the city," the Venango County Museum, the National Transit arts project, the YMCA and YWCA, the municipal parking garage and the swimming pool.

Once the plan is completed, city council should consider it as "functional," cautioned Graney, alluding to a propensity to allow studies to be shelved and ignored.

"The next step is ... to draw up a list of options. We'll look at problems and how to fix them," Graney said. "...(The focus) is where do we want to be and how do we get there?"

Perhaps Oil City leaders should study Richard Florida's "The Rise Of The Creative Class."

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