City pitches 'neighborhood action plan'

Sean Philip Cotter

The issues York City's neighborhoods face are complex and varied, and city officials simply can't tackle them all at once.

"We need a triage list to work from," said Shilvosky Buffaloe, the acting director of York City's Community and Economic Development. "We just want to make intelligent, smarter decisions."

So Buffaloe made a pitch Monday night to the Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, an umbrella organization composed of the 17 neighborhood associations in York City, to help his department create a "neighborhood action plan" have more comprehensive information about the city it serves.

Economic & Community Development Director Shilvosky Buffaloe, right, responds to a question from Chairman Ben Moylan as he presents his community action plan during the Alliance of Neighborhood Associations' monthly meeting at Martin Library in York City, Monday, March 21, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The idea is to get as much input from residents as possible, so the city — especially Buffaloe's department — can make informed decisions about what the needs of the 5.2-square-mile city's 20 neighborhoods are and what the priorities in each one should be.

In his pitch to the ANA, Buffaloe called it a "comprehensive, semi-strategic" initiative, meaning it should cover a range of issues across the whole city but isn't a formal policy document — it's just so the city can have better information, he said.

"It's intended to be a snapshot in time in terms of where we are in the current market," Buffaloe said, adding it can help them make "informed and logical" decisions about development in the city.

For example, he said, there are many structurally unsound buildings people want knocked down to make way for new buildings, or parking lots, or parks, or anything else. But the cash-strapped city doesn't have the resources to knock down all those buildings and work on all the sites, he said.

So what this plan might do is show Buffaloe's department which buildings residents in a few neighborhoods believe are the biggest trouble spots to work on — ones where the city can get the most return for their money, he said.

Director of Selection & Development Jessica Fieldhouse answers questions as Economic & Community Development Director Shilvosky Buffaloe presents his community action plan during the Alliance of Neighborhood Associations' monthly meeting at Martin Library in York City, Monday, March 21, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

And Buffaloe wants the neighborhood associations to help.

"Help city staff in pulling together community meetings," he asked them.

The members seemed interested.

"It sounds like a worthwhile activity for sure," said Mary Anne Bacas, who comes from the Avenues neighborhood association.

Jessica Fieldhouse, who's on the city planning commission and is a member of the ANA representing the city's Doctor's Row neighborhood, helped Buffaloe present. She said this will help inform the update to the city's Strategic Comprehensive Plan, adopted in late 2009, which draws out in broad strokes how the city should seek to move in the right direction over the following 20 years.

"It's a really fabulous planning tool for the city," she said.

She said she envisions the neighborhood action plan as being driven by both city staff and volunteers. The goal would be to come up with sort of what's called a SWOT analysis — one with the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each neighborhood through the eyes of their residents, she said.

That way, Buffaloe said, the city can let potential developers know what there's a demand for and what the community will support.

He said the first step will be going door to door and assessing every property in the city. He said he hopes to get started in April, as soon as the weather cooperates, and he, his staff and whatever volunteers are willing will undertake that task, hoping to get it done as quickly as they can.

"We're only as good as the date on the back end," he said

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.