Making Clinton a nicer place to live may require some out-of-the box thinking, members of the committee of the whole learned Tuesday night. To move forward, we may have to take a look back to what’s worked in the past, according to City Administrator Jeff Horne.

“That’s kind of a back-to-the-future sort of thing,” Horne said. “That’s going back to the old days.”

Horne was referring to the final draft of the Neighborhood Improvement Committee’s suggestions, compiled after a year’s worth of monthly discussions. Specifically, he was referring to a suggestion that the city consider zoning more properties for mixed use. Intertwining residential areas with small businesses, retail outlets or coffee shops may harken to days gone by, but Horne believes it is one of the few affordable ways Clinton can make better use of its resources.

The Neighborhood Improvement Committee was borne from planning sessions in 2011 that identified a need for quality of life policy input from community members. The commission worked with Horne to help identify what challenges Clinton faces, and how best to overcome those obstacles.

This task was made more difficult by complications unique to the area.

“There’s really no road map in the United States,” Horne said. “There’s no model for it.”

Dubuque’s successful revitalization of its warehouse district was examined, as were urban revitalization techniques implemented in towns like Youngstown, Ohio. But the “far-flung” nature of Clinton’s residents combined with the city’s age make it difficult for Horne to identify a cookie-cutter fix to implement.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing revitalization of Clinton, specifically in the downtown area, is the expense of adding sprinkler systems to existing properties. The Neighborhood Improvement Committee recommended the city institute a plan to help defray the costs of the sprinkler systems to incentivize downtown development.

Also suggested were the use of city resources and personnel to oversee implementation of aspects of the plan, as well as a more aggressive code-enforcement policy. Unfortunately, as committee of the whole members pointed out, many of the Neighborhood Improvement Committee’s recommendations would require a financial commitment from the city that may not be possible.

Horne said while the money may not be available, cost-free plan aspects can be implemented immediately, with other aspects being considered at a future, hopefully more financially stable, point. Building and Neighborhood Services Official Mike Harmon said an investment in the community can often inspire residents to take the neighborhood improvement initiative upon themselves.

“One of the beautiful things that’s happened, the new streets in Chancy, there’s a connection between (street repair) and people rehabilitating their homes,” he said. “We’re making progress. Right now it’s in a small little area.”

The committee voted to endorse the plan. Horne will work with city departments to look for ways aspects of the plan can be incorporated. The Neighborhood Improvement Committee will continue to meet infrequently to oversee implementation.

In other action, the committee:

• Discussed possibilities for sewer construction along 13th Avenue North.

The addition of the new middle school in the area will require construction of a city sewer to connect to the Mill Creek truck sewer. City Engineer Jason Craft presented four different scenarios for the committee to consider, each one showing different ways to divide the cost of the project, estimated to be over $600,000.

Some were assessment based, which would see adjacent property owners who directly benefit from the addition of the sewer paying a fee based on the size of their property.

Others focused on sewer usage, which would dramatically increase the school’s monetary obligation to the project.

As the Clinton School District could be asked to pay anywhere from $37,000 to $117,000 in construction costs, committee members voted to schedule a meeting with district administration.

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