B y PJ Ferguson

 

The Whitehall Village Board has introduced the first draft of a revitalization comprehensive plan, written by the engineering firm Chazen Companies, which calls for major steps to encourage pass-through travelers to stop and see the village.

For starters, the plan proposes changing the Broadway/Poultney Street intersection into a roundabout, with a monument celebrating Whitehall’s status as the birthplace of the U.S. Navy standing tall in the center of the circle.

The plan states that almost 10,000 cars pass through Whitehall daily, and with an increase in signage highlighting the history, the waterfront and the downtown area, Smith believes fewer of those cars will be passing by, instead stopping to check out the village.

The 161-page document, available on the village’s website, describes the challenges that Whitehall faces, the vision of what the village should strive for over the next 5-10 years, and how to implement that vision.

The comprehensive plan has been one of the primary initiatives that Mayor Phil Smith has pushed for since taking office in 2017.

Chazen was paid $63,874.64 for drafting the plan, with payments split up over the past two budget years.

With the adoption of the plan, the village puts itself in a better position to receive more funding from grants.

“As part of the CFA process, Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) may identify priority projects that align with their respective economic development plan. If the REDC identifies a project as a priority for the region, there is a greater likelihood of receiving funding,” it reads.

While Smith admits that the “number one priority has to be our infrastructure,” the plan also suggests several ideas that could change the landscape and scenery of Whitehall dramatically.

Another proposal includes the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks that connects Broadway to Main Street, allowing for residents to access the parks and businesses downtown without having to walk around to either end of the village.

Other proposals include establishing a rental registry/certificate of occupancy program, a code enforcement position, a paid deputy mayor or village administrator to “alleviate pressure from the mayor and village board,” consolidating services with the town and county, among many others.

Smith said he strongly believes that the museum is a “critical part of drawing people downtown,” with the plan calling for the facility to have “more consistent and continued hours of operation.”

Smith admits that some may consider some of these proposals to be lofty.

“Some of it may be viewed as pie-in-the-sky type of stuff,” Smith said, “If we’re going to turn Whitehall around, though, you have to do some of that stuff.”

The comprehensive plan estimates the proposals for streetscape enhancements including the pedestrian bridge, roundabout, additional signage, and other improvements, will cost more than $14 million. Additionally, the plan cites a 2009 study that concluded that “necessary improvements to the sewer system may cost over $25 million.” This study does not include the cost of necessary improvements to the water service infrastructure in the village, which would also carry a price tag in the millions.

The plan lays out more than a dozen avenues for funding for these projects, noting that “no one source will fund all of the plan recommendations.”

Showcasing a number of eye-catching statistics, the plan reveals a number of facts about the village.

The village’s median population is younger than the median age of Washington County and median household incomes and home values are substantially lower for the village in comparison to the county.

According to the 2010 census, the village has a population of 2,614. The plan reveals that 1,075 of village residents are currently participating in the work force, with the remaining 59% not working, which includes the elderly, disabled and juveniles.

To compile the pros and cons of Whitehall, an advisory committee consisting of local leaders and business owners met several times to discuss ideas for the plan. In addition, an online survey received 128 responses and 20 one-on-one interviews were conducted with locals.

Smith said he was very pleased with the plan with his only regret being that not enough “regular residents” were interviewed.

“There is still time for them to give their input,” noted Smith, signaling that residents are encouraged to come and give feedback on the plan during a public hearing at the Whitehall Municipal Center on April 6 at 6 p.m.

Deputy Mayor Pat Norton praised the document during February’s village board meeting.

“I’m very impressed with what we would like to have Whitehall be like in the future,” she said, thanking those who volunteered during the data collection process.

 

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