Ticket to the Future Study - 2012
The Town of De Kalb is located in St. Lawrence County between the St. Lawrence River and the foothills of the Adirondacks, southwest of the county seat, Canton. It encompasses the hamlet of De Kalb Junction, the Village of Richville, and the hamlets of De Kalb, Kendrew and Bigelow. William Cooper of Cooperstown arranged the purchase of De Kalb in February of 1803, one of the original ten towns in the County. The Town of De Kalb was officially chartered by the NYS legislature on February 22, 1806. The first “village” in the township of De Kalb was known as Williamstown or Coopers Village which, by 1814, was offering most necessary frontier services. In 1820, when the Coopers were no longer involved, it became known as De Kalb Village.
De Kalb’s proximity to larger population centers [Canton, Gouverneur, Ogdensburg] has had a negative impact on its economic infrastructure. Residents have access to shopping in larger markets in 15-30 minutes. Fortunately, this proximity has an upside. Residents of the community have not been forced to move from the town to obtain employment and important or needed services. The convenience of a relatively short drive or commute has enabled them to continue living in the community they love. 63% of the respondents to our survey have lived in De Kalb for 21 years or more.
The Town of De Kalb has long acknowledged the need and value of community planning. In 1991, the Town, with the assistance of the St. Lawrence County Planning Office, completed work on its De Kalb Site Plan Review Law. In 1999, it again collaborated with the County Planning Office to submit a NYS Department of transportation TEA-21 Transportation Enhancement Program Grant. Since the Site Plan Review Law was adopted, the Town of De Kalb attempted several times to prepare a community master plan, without success. Local officials sponsored several public sessions that included presentations by planning professionals (staff from C.W. Augustine, Inc. and the St. Lawrence County Planning Office) about community planning concepts. These events generated interest among residents of the Town, but none resulted in a document that “… identifies [the community’s] needs and establishes implementation steps to address those needs within a framework of specific community development goals and objectives.”
In 2010, the Town successfully applied to the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s Office of Community Renewal for a Community Development Block Grant to fund the preparation of a Community Development Plan, of which this report is the product.
The purpose of a community development plan is to try to take hold of the future, rather than drifting into it. Every community is impacted by forces beyond its control – economic, social, and environmental. At the same time, there are forces over which some measure of control can be exercised – at least the economic and social, if not the environmental.
The fundamental assumption of the democratic form of government is that there is wisdom resident in a community – that the people are capable of evaluating what is happening and contributing to the achievement of the common good when their participation is solicited and honored.
The charting of a course is easiest when a community faces challenges on which there is a clear consensus and the solutions are obvious. Life is infrequently so simple. The residents of communities generally have differing experiences and conflicting perspectives. This is certainly true of the Town of De Kalb in the year 2012. The purpose of this study was to gather information from the residents regarding where they see De Kalb as being today, and where they would like to see it be in the coming years.
This study has revealed a great deal of satisfaction with life in De Kalb. The community survey conducted as a part of this study found the highest level of agreement in the affirmatives. There were, however, a number of subjects on which there was significant divergence of opinion – one might wonder if all the respondents lived in the same community. Only 23% said they hoped the community would stay the same -- 64% favored change – while 13% expressed no preference. At the same time, 43% expect De Kalb to remain the same over the next decade; 18% fear it will get worse; 24% had no opinion; only 5% anticipate improvement.
The topics for improvement that will be addressed in this plan included:
In some cases, the vision appeared to be focused on the rear view mirror -- returning to a world that once was but cannot be regained – the De Kalb of 1950 is not compatible with the world of 2012. In more instances, however, there are enhancements to the community which are attainable through community attention and effort – public and private.
This report will point to areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction reported by residents of the Town of De Kalb, suggesting possible courses of action in response to the topics that would advance the obtaining of “Tickets to the Future” and surprise those who do not anticipate improvement.
Upon the award of the Community Development Block Grant by the Office of Community Renewal, an eighteen member Planning Committee was appointed to oversee the Community Development Planning Process and the firm of C.W. Augustine, Inc, was engaged as the consultant. The Planning Committee held its initial meeting on February 15, 2011.
A letter from Larry Denesha, Town Supervisor, explaining the Planning Process, was mailed to Town residents on July 8th, 2011. [Appendix B] Releases were sent to the media to further publicize the process.
On July 15th, C.W. Augustine mailed copies of a 75-item survey form based on NeighborWorks® America’s “Success Measures” survey “Residential Satisfaction with Neighborhood” to 1513 adult residents of De Kalb utilizing a list based on tax and voting rolls. Copies of the survey were also made available in the local convenience stores and the Town Clerk’s Office for those who were not included on those lists.
Postcard reminders were sent a week after the survey was mailed, and a drawing for two $50 gift certificates from a local business was held from the responses received by August 4th. 331 surveys (22% of those mailed) were returned within four weeks. The respondents tended to be older and better educated than the average resident, but not to a degree that would significantly skew the results.
COMMUNITY MEETINGS – Round 1
Following a review of the survey results by the Town’s Planning Committee, a pair of community meetings was scheduled to further engage community residents in the creation of the community development plan. Postcard invitations were mailed to every family, posters were displayed in the community, and media (print and radio) assisted in announcing the meetings. One session was held in the morning and the second in the evening to accommodate differing work and life schedules. Fifty-nine residents attended (3.4% of the adult population).
After an overview of the planning process, brainstorming was held in the S.W.O.T. [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats] model. A total of 121 responses were recorded. Each participant was provided with 5 “sticky dots” with which to indicate their support of items that had been generated, and was told they could use all 5 dots for a single item, or divide them as they saw fit. 244 out of a potential 295 votes were cast. No item received more than 7 votes [2.8% of the votes cast]. It is clear that there was no discernable consensus emerging from the meeting. It would be folly to give any weight to an opinion held by 2.8% of 3.4% [.095%] of the residents. There was, however, a lively conversation. Subjectively, discussion seemed to the consultants to center on the appearance of the town, communication gaps with the elected officials, and the local economy.
COMMUNITY MEETINGS – Round 2
The consultants, drawing upon the surveys, the Community meetings, the windshield survey of homes, demographic data from the US Census, conversations with community leaders, and consultation with regional planners, developed a draft of this Community Development Plan which was publicized, posted on the Town’s website, and made available in printed form in several locations. It was opened for discussion at a second round of Community Meetings which were held on January 22nd and 24th. 74 residents participated in those meetings. 52 returned ballots on which they ranked the priority of the proposed actions. Few accepted the opportunity offered to delete from or add to the proposed list. [See Appendix D] 46 attendees completed cards on which they shared elements of their vision for the community and suggested members for the Revitalization Steering Committee.