Planning a Path For Wheeling

Effective planning for Wheeling’s future will require, well, effective planning. Members of the city Planning Commission are right to move cautiously in the process of preparing a formal comprehensive plan.

Writing one is not optional for the city. State law requires cities have comprehensive plans and update them every 10 years.

However, as city Assistant Director of Development Tom Connelly explained this week, Wheeling’s plan has not been reviewed since 1997 because the state law was approved in 2004 and the city was given 10 years from then to update its comprehensive plan.

Virtually every aspect of the city’s future is to be covered by the new plan, which must be ready by 2014. That includes everything from economic development to street maintenance, from sewers to playgrounds.

It is important the plan be a truly comprehensive one, including the entire city rather than focusing on just part of it. And as Connelly noted, it also is vital the plan not be limited to just a few topics.

While economic development, the foundation of most plans in the past, certainly is important, Wheeling officials and taxpayers must begin planning on other fronts, too. For example, infrastructure needs need to be addressed through advance planning, not as they crop up.

Still, redirecting the city’s economy has to be part of any comprehensive plan. Much has changed since the last plan was adopted. The downtown outlet mall idea proved to be a flop. Development of The Highlands closed some development doors for downtown Wheeling, but may have opened others. And the idea of “adaptive reuse” of old buildings went from a philosophy to a practical success.

For several years, however, the city’s economic development efforts have seemed at times to be reactive rather than proactive. That may be unavoidable; when challenges arise, they must be addressed.

That very situation is why Planning Commission members should stick to the go-slow philosophy they seem to have adopted regarding the new comprehensive plan. Before a road map for Wheeling’s next decade can be written, residents, business people and public officials will have to agree on where we want the city to go. Before much else is done about the comprehensive plan, efforts to define that should be made.