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Town gathers to create a vision

Town gathers to create a vision
Town gathers to create a vision
Members of one small group use markers to indicate possible changes to the town of Laconia during a steering committee meeting Thursday at the town's community center. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor (click for larger version)

The Laconia Town Council asked for people to participate in a ‘visioning workshop’ last week, and a few dozen of the town’s 50 or so residents responded by showing up on a chilly night.
In an anticipation of a good turnout, town council president Tom Huckaby had moved Thursday’s workshop from the town hall to one of the meeting rooms in the community center, which the attendees filled.
‘It’s nice to have this kind of turnout considering the weather,’ Huckaby said before introducing Amy Williams, a principal with Taylor Siefker Williams design group, which has offices in Louisville and Indianapolis, who facilitated the workshop.
Williams assured the Laconia residents and other property owners that the plan that will be developed with a $40,000 grant from the Community Development Block Grant program (the town will have to provide $4,445 for a match) isn’t about what she wants, as she lives in Sellersburg, and it isn’t about what the group doesn’t want.
A cross section of residents and others have been asked to serve on a steering committee and will review the consulting firm’s work, as will the town council, she said.
The goal is to develop a comprehensive plan that will serve as a foundation for land-use decisions for the town for the next 20 or so years.
‘It addresses how do we want to grow, do we want to grow,’ Williams said. ‘It’s a collaborative process that articulates the community’ without harming any natural resources in the community.
‘It’s not going to solve all those little problems,’ she added.
After looking at the town’s existing physical condition, Williams talked about emerging trends, stating that America is growing, aging and becoming more diverse. She then compared Laconia’s demographic trends to other towns of similar size in Harrison County, to the rest of the state and to the United States.
Using statistics from the U.S. Census that showed Laconia increased from a population of 29 in 2000 to 50 in 2010, Williams said. ‘That’s a pretty significant increase.’
Huckaby said he thinks the 2000 census was flawed, saying that his family of five at that time didn’t receive a census questionnaire.
Other stats show that Laconia’s median age is 41 and that there are 25 housing units, with 25 percent of them consisting of one person. Forty-three percent of the town’s population works in Harrison County, and 67 percent of the residents graduated high school.
‘The county is suppose to increase by 19 percent by 2035,’ Williams said. ‘Where are they going to live, shop, drive?’
Based on that calculation, Laconia is estimated to gain 10 more residents.
‘We don’t want to lose the reason why people want to live here,’ Williams said.
While members of the steering committee were completing a questionnaire, she asked the rest of the group why they live there. Responses included ‘born and raised here,’ ‘my wife,’ it’s a farming community and because of the small-town character.
When asked about areas to improve, some said to get more businesses located there, to attract more people and to offer more activities.
Former town council member Joe Kingsley suggested bringing the school back. ‘That’s when this town died,’ when the school was consolidated, he said.
‘Unfortunately, that’s not the trend,’ Williams said.
‘I learned a long time ago to never say never,’ Kingsley added later when saying he’d like to see a cell-phone tower that would help with communication, both locally and worldwide.
Some suggested there are things which the town can build upon, such as its churches, the General Store, the town’s history and its Celebrate Laconia festival.
‘At one time, Laconia had a lot of people … more than it has now,’ Huckaby said. ‘There has to be a critical size to sustain the town.’
To wrap up the evening, Williams said there will be two public meetings ‘ one in mid-February and another in May, as well as two additional steering committee meetings, one in April and again in July, which also are open to the public. A proposal will be presented to the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission for approval in August or September then, if approved, the Laconia Town Council will adopt the plan.
‘Just the amount of people who’ve showed up here tonight shows the interest,’ Williams said. ‘Everybody deserves a pat on the back for that.’