After about a year in the making, a draft of the Belgrade Downtown Design Plan has been completed and published for review by the community.
City Planner Jason Karp said it’s been gratifying to see the department’s work materialized and to be able to share it with the public.
“I think it’s really fun to see a vision put on paper that people can identify with, and I think there’s some really great opportunities right away,” Karp said.
The main goal of the Downtown Design Plan is to “focus limited resources on impactful projects to spur economic development that benefits the people of Belgrade, visitors and business owners,” the document states.
The plan is the culmination of effort by the city and the consulting firm Cushing Terrell to revitalize Belgrade’s Urban Renewal District. The plan identifies several opportunities for rehabilitation and redevelopment of infrastructure in the area.
Some of the notable changes proposed include the addition of a parking lot downtown, designating a new truck route to bypass Main Street, improving streets, updating zoning regulations and creating a railroad quiet zone.
Karp said the changes will serve to “improve the overall look and feel as people come into our city,” which is increasingly important as Belgrade continues to grow.
“Belgrade is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, and sometimes the path of least resistance is to grow outward and in the empty fields of the city,” he said. “And while that’s happening, the interior and core of the city is being neglected, and if it continues, it will be hollow. We want to see the core revitalized.”
The published draft plan also includes before-and-after renderings of intersections with their proposed improvements. Karp warns, though, that these visuals are “aspirational,” and the real result could look very different as the city is unable to determine what private property owners do with their land.
“When people see the buildings in the plan, they have to know that’s what it could look like, but not necessarily what it will look like,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is inspire current landowners of what it could look like if we all work together on it.”
Public input has been an important part of the project since it first began, solicited via phone, door-to-door interviews with businesses and stakeholder groups, online surveys, a virtual Open House, press releases, social media promotion and the project’s website, BeHeardBelgrade.com.
“We feel like we got a strong amount of feedback,” Karp said. “We’re always happy to have more, though.”
Karp said BeHeardBelgrade is a good place for community members to continue to provide input and constructive criticism. Public comment also will be heard at the upcoming Planning Board meeting on Feb. 22 and at an upcoming Belgrade City Council meeting, likely on March 1.
The City Council will consider adopting the plan, and if it does, the city can begin to implement it. It will provide the basis for zoning code amendments within the Urban Renewal District and also will give the city the opportunity to start seeking long-term funding for infrastructure projects, Karp said.
The costs for the improvements, which are outlined in detail in the plan, will be funded through tax increment financing. Karp specified, though, that no one’s taxes will be increased as part of this financing plan. Tax increment funds simply already incoming tax dollars into development.
Karp said the ideas outlined in the Downtown Design Plan will result in many benefits for Belgrade, including – it is hoped – recruitment of new businesses.
“It’s good for the city, it’s good for our tax base, it’s good for employment (and) it’s good for housing,” he said.
To view the plan, visit https://beheardbelgrade.com/downtown-design-plan