By C.V. Moore
MOUNT HOPE —
A public meeting to hear comments on Mount Hope’s new comprehensive plan was sidetracked when attendees complained the draft was not easily accessible to the public.
Thursday evening was supposed to be the last opportunity for residents to suggest revisions to the plan, which will be presented to council on Tuesday.
But very few attendees on Thursday had actually seen the plan.
A digital copy is and was available for download online at cityofmounthope.org. One paper copy was supposedly at City Hall, but an employee there was unable to show it to one attendee who tried to view it.
“A lot of people in Mount Hope do not have Internet access,” Mount Hope resident John Romage told the planning commission after he unsuccessfully tried to view a copy at the library and city hall.
“To not have this readily available says to me that people aren’t interested or you don’t want them to know about it,” said another resident, Jean Evansmore.
She had printed a copy of the 119-page document from the Internet. She invited anyone who wanted to view it to come to DuBois on Main on Friday.
“We wanted copies to be available,” said Mount Hope’s attorney, Anna Ziegler. “Because it is expensive to print that many copies professionally, the decision was to hold off until after tonight’s meeting so comments could be incorporated. The planning commission felt money would be better invested in (printing) a final version.”
But nobody had substantive comments for revision, since they had not seen the document. About a dozen people attended the meeting.
Steve McGowan, an attorney for the Boy Scouts of America, submitted recommended changes in writing. They all concerned language about a possible annexation of the nearby Summit Bechtel Reserve by the city.
The comprehensive planning process in Mount Hope was prompted in large part by the anticipated annexation request by the Boy Scouts of America for its 10,600-acre development. Such an action would have altered the city’s current land use profile radically.
At the last minute, the town put brakes on the action, deciding instead to develop a comprehensive plan.
McGowan wanted language about annexation to be softened in the document.
“He’s basically asked us to remove any language about the definitiveness that Mount Hope will annex the Boy Scouts and replace it with the facts — that they have requested it and it may occur in the future,” said Ziegler.
Instead of the definitive phrase “The city is in the process of annexing The Summit,” for example,” McGowan wanted qualifying language to the effect of “if it is in the best interests of the Boy Scouts and the City.”
While recognizing its importance to the town’s future, several sentences in the plan cast doubt on the economic impact that The Summit will have on Mount Hope.
The authors write that the city is “unlikely to see a widespread impact from the facility” and that its economic recovery is “not likely to come directly from its proximity” to the Summit, although that proximity will “help cement its reputation as it recovers.”
They write that the anticipated visitor entrances to the facility will not route visitors through the town and that Mount Hope’s relative lack of commercial infrastructure will likely mean that other nearby towns and cities benefit more.
The plan calls for rebuilding the town’s economy by focusing on cultural development opportunities — history, fine arts, performing arts, and food, for example.
This tourism, arts, and heritage-based economy would celebrate the coal mining heritage of the town, in particular, through the creation of a Coal Mining Heritage Museum.
The recent removal of houses in the Dunloup Creek Floodplain and dilapidated structures throughout town creates even more opportunities for public places, housing and economic development.
Though approximately a third of its residents live at or below the poverty line, Mount Hope has the foundation for a highly “livable” city in design terms, write the authors.
“While Mount Hope and its residents may not consider their city cutting edge, in planning and design terms, it is,” they write. “Mount Hope already has many of the elements cited in safe neighborhood and livability programs (...) including porches, front windows, narrow streets, and small lots.”
Its heritage as a coal company town meant that the town was actually highly “planned” when the New River Company settled the area. It is concentrated and walkable, with a compact historic center.
Its land use shows a legacy of both racial segregation and the separation of upper company management and its workforce. That legacy has led to the “ongoing belief that Mount Hope was two separate places and two separate communities within the same place,” the plan states.
Mount Hope has Fayette County’s highest concentration of African Americans, many of whom live on the northern edge of town.
The plan’s pages contain analysis of a lot of historical and current data, which can be hard to come by for municipalities of its size.
The comprehensive plan is Mount Hope’s vision for the future, which guides land use ordinances. It is the product of over a year’s work by the Mount Hope Planning Commission.
Meeting attendees acknowledged the hard work of that body, which held several public meetings last summer to gain the community’s input.
“I was very pleased with the booklet we saw,” said one resident. “It was detailed, specific, and had a lot of good information.”
Anderson & Associates was contracted to help the town create the plan. The Boy Scouts of America funded the majority of its costs.
The Mount Hope Planning Commission meets on Tuesday at 6 p.m., one hour before they are set to recommend the document to council.
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