Town of Potsdam begins process of creating a comprehensive plan

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POTSDAM ­— About 20 people gathered Wednesday afternoon to begin creating a comprehensive plan for the town, guiding its development going forward.

“So often, we come to our board meetings … but really, there’s not much connection with the community,” said councilwoman Rosemaria Rivezzi as she began the process. This meeting was an opportunity to engage members of the community from a wide variety of institutions and municipalities, including Potsdam Central School, Canton-Potsdam Hospital, the villages, and the county.

The meeting is the first step of a likely year-long process to create a comprehensive plan, which the town does not currently have. The town does have a community development plan, but it is vague and outdated in places, according to Ms. Rivezzi.

“It’s always a good idea to look at where you are, to imagine where you’d like to be … and then try to figure out some way to get there,” said John Tenbusch, a representative of the county planning office who attended the meeting. “You’re going to grow, you’re going to change anyway. If you don’t plan for it, you’re going to end up in a place and a direction you didn’t want.”

Having a comprehensive plan is especially important as the town recently voted to become a climate smart community, reducing emissions and increasing resiliency to severe weather. The meeting was run by Erik C. Backus, director of the construction engineering management program at Clarkson University, who was one of the people who first approached the town about becoming a climate smart community.

“We’re going to engage in this process of working together to come up with some ideas, for sure,” said Mr. Backus, as he introduced the meeting process. “But then we’re going to commit ourselves to taking action with these, through first a planning process … but also beyond that.”

Mr. Backus worked on resiliency and infrastructure issues in Virginia when he worked as the engineering planner for George Mason University, and reviewed some ways other municipalities had used these plans to re-vitalize communities.

He then asked participants to gather around one of six tables, each addressing agricultural land use, infrastructure and energy, resiliency, quality of life and culture, housing and neighborhoods or economic development. After brainstorming at the tables, the participants presented some of the major themes.

Many of the suggestions were based on using incentives to promote and improve existing assets in the town, from businesses to natural resources. A particular focus was housing, with suggestions for increasing household resiliency in the event of a disaster, creating more housing for senior citizens, and improving sub-standard housing with major defects.

With many ideas literally on the table, each written down on a post-it note, Mr. Backus asked how these ideas would become reality.

“The answer is people get engaged,” he said, before asking for volunteers to continue the planning. The process will continue with sub-committees working on these six topics.

“This is exciting — I’m surprised the town of Potsdam doesn’t have a comprehensive plan,” said Karen Bage, a community coordinator with the health initiative, who attended the meeting. “I’m excited that there’s an energetic town board that wants to take on this challenge.”

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