Vision Iola hopes to lead city in right direction

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Register/Richard Luken
The Vision Iola Master Plan will look at ways to plan or improve parks and trails, including sidewalks. A sidewalk recently was poured along the south side Miller Road, while the north of the street still has no safe access for pedestrians.
Signage in and around Iola will be considered as part of the Vision Iola Master Plan. Here, colorful signs contain clear directions to a number of places near Moundridge. A similar wayfinding side on the west edge of Iola, shown at right, features small print that is difficult to read, even when passing by at slow speeds.

The input of Iolans will be sought on downtown beautification, what to do with hundreds of empty lots in south Iola and more as the Vision Iola Master Plan starts to take shape.
The six-month planning process will be kicked off at a forum Jan. 14, spearheaded by Thrive Allen County and the city working with consultants from Landworks Studio of Olathe.
Vision Iola will provide the framework for developing community enhancements in three areas — downtown streetscape improvements; identity and signage; and parks and trails, explained David Toland, Thrive executive director, and Carisa McMullen, principal owner of Landworks.
Developing the Vision Iola plan will require substantial input from the community, McMullen said. The Internet, public meetings and questionnaires will all be used to gather opinions. Planners are eager to visit with civic groups as well, McMullen said. Task groups will also be needed for each of the three elements.
“We want the citizens of Iola to recognize who we are and what we do,” McMullen said. “We’re going to be aggressive in getting this information to the community.”
The six-month timeline for Vision Iola will include three months of local participation, Toland said, in order to keep participants engaged and avoid “planning fatigue.” Local input runs from January through April.
“We’d love to have everybody say they’ll attend all of the meetings in all three areas, but we realize with their schedules that may not be possible,” he said.
McMullen said a Web site detailing Vision Iola is near completion and will be unveiled at the Jan. 14 kickoff.
For those uncomfortable with communicating via e-mail, participants are welcome to visit the Thrive office or with Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Bauer at City Hall, who is assisting with the planning and development of Vision Iola.
Literature explaining the planning process also will be made available at several businesses and city offices around town.

DEVELOPING parks and trails is a vital component of the plan because it deals with community health — finding ways to get folks off their couches and active in the community — Toland noted. The “trails” aspect also deals with sidewalks.
With Iola now the owner of more than 100 empty lots, vacated from the 2007 flood, the city is charged with maintaining that land as undeveloped green space for perpetuity.
“If we’re going to spend that level of effort to maintain that land, how can we best utilize it to create a better community and improve our overall health,” Toland asked.
The city already has put into motion a plan to convert part of the land for recreational fields. Another request was fielded to convert a portion of the land into a dog park.
Having Vision Iola will allow city planners to develop a priority list and determine the feasibility of such endeavors, Toland said.
Task force members will meet in April to discuss parks and trails, Toland said.
The community health angle was key in attracting a $50,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation — matched by $25,000 from the city — to pay for the Vision Iola plan.
“Community health is the keystone for this project,” Toland said.

IOLANS ALSO will look at identity and signage — “our look and feel,” Toland said.
Colorful directional signs posted at strategic parts in town can better point out schools, museums and other points of interest.
Iola only has two such signs, on the east and west edges of town, directing visitors to Allen County Hospital, Riverside Park, the downtown business district and Ray Pershall Industrial Park.
But the lettering on those signs is so small, reading it can be difficult even at slow speeds, Toland noted.
“Signage reflect a community’s character,” Bauer said. “That’s why it’s so important to have meaningful input from the community.”
McMullen said the signage task force will meet primarily in February.

THE DOWNTOWN business district also will be examined to determine how it can be enhanced for a more walkable and attractive atmosphere and whether other amenities are necessary to draw residents and tourists. McMullen estimated the downtown development task force will meet primarily in March.

THE VISION Iola Master Plan will fit in, and in many cases extend, portions of the city’s comprehensive plan, Bauer said.
Iola’s comprehensive plan — necessary to qualify for various loans and grants from the state and federal governments — was last updated in 2005, prior to the flooding that drastically altered the neighborhood makeup in parts of south Iola.
“There’s a reason we’re calling this an action plan,” Toland said. “It’s not going to just sit on a shelf. We want to get improvements done.”
Once the planning process is complete, Landworks will work with Thrive and the city to pursue grants and other revenue sources to better ensure implementation, Toland said.