Sidewalks, sewers, tourism in comp plan
by Rick DeClue · News · January 18, 2013

After two public meetings in 2012 and a survey that received 401 responses, the city of West Branch drafted an update to its 20-year comprehensive plan.

A copy of the 59-page document, which is still getting some final touches, can be found on the city’s Web site.

The proposed plan tries to balance both continuing needs such as infrastructure and economic development with changing needs such as more retail and service space – supported by 71 percent of the survey responses- and sustainability and green issues. Some of the changing needs reflect a population that averages 39 years old versus 29 years old in 1980.

Some of the economic development parts of the plan:

• Retain and expand existing businesses

• Continue downtown revitalization, which has been helped by Main Street West Branch efforts, National Historic designations and the city’s revolving loan fund

• Fostering local entrepreneurship

• Providing ready land for industrial use, such as the recently announced Altorfer equipment sales facility

• Focus on tourism, anchored by the 75,000 visitors attracted to the Hoover complex annually.

The plan’s look at future infrastructure includes water and sewer projects ranging from a new city well to a new lift station. Funding for the lift station has been approved and initial work is scheduled to begin this month. The list of seven projects in the plan total an estimated $4.5 million to $5 million.

Along with continuing efforts to maintain and improve streets, the plan shows a focus on bicycle and pedestrian trails and sidewalks. The surveys responses show support for fixing existing trails and sidewalks, connectivity and development of new paths throughout the city.

West Branch built two new sidewalks in 2012 and plans more this year. The city also plans to apply for Safe Routes to School funding in hopes to build more.

The plan addresses hazard issues. This includes both natural, such as flooding, and man-made, such as the identification of potential brownfield sites in the city. Last year saw construction of the recently completed flood protection project on the northeast side of town.

Parks and recreation generated strong opinions in the survey responses.

While there is general satisfaction with the diversity and maintenance of existing parks, and the city added the new Wapsi Creek Park in 2012, the plan calls for more parks with more amenities and access by bicycles and pedestrians.

Recreation responses called for more outdoor recreation opportunities, a municipal recreation center and water amenities.

The West Branch police and fire departments have reported to the city council that their respective budgets and funds set aside each year are currently working. They have also both benefited from private donations, especially to help in vehicle purchases.

The city’s Public Works Department, though, reports it struggled with past practices in city administration that have left it with both aging equipment and unfunded needs. The city council recently approved the purchase and financing of a new street sweeper to replace its current 33-year-old model at a cost of approximately $165,000. They are also considering the purchase of a new skid loader for the department.

The council has said it hopes that these two purchases will give the department the ability to plan for future needs, such as new snow plows, in an orderly budgeting and replacement process.

According to the 2010 census, West Branch grew 5.8 percent between 2000 and 2010. This is down from 12.8 percent growth the previous decade and an average of 25 percent per decade from 1950 through 1980.

Two cities in a group of 10 identified in an Iowa State University study as peer cities for West Branch have lost population since 1960.

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