by CHRIS ROGERS

What should the future of Winona look like? City officials and consultants are giving local residents a plethora of ways to weigh in on that question over the next few weeks. It’s part of the development of a new comprehensive plan for Winona, a document aimed at setting a long-term, big-picture vision for the future of the city and every issue facing it, from housing to transportation.

The city hired local nonprofit Engage Winona to handle public outreach on the plan, and the organization is hosting a series of in-person and virtual events where residents may join in small group discussions on Winona’s future. Residents may also take an online survey, pin specific issues or hopes to a digital map of the city, or leave a voicemail with their ideas and wishes.

“The idea is to give people a variety of options so that people can be engaged in the way that feels comfortable for them and fits into their life,” Engage Winona Executive Director Marcia Ratliff said. “There’s no substitute for sitting around a table and talking about your dreams for your community with other community members, but those other options are there for people who prefer a different format,” she added.

Winona City Carlos Espinosa explained what city officials hope to hear from citizens: “What do they want to see Winona be in the next 20-25 years here? When you look out to that future date, what do you want to see Winona being?” He added, “It’ll help to set the tone for the rest of the plan development.”

“These events are going to look at three big questions,” Ratliff said. “One is, what do you believe are Winona’s strengths or what are Winona’s assets?” She explained, “If we can understand what is valuable to us about our community, that makes our decisions as we go through the process [of writing the new comprehensive plan] a little easier.” The second question for citizens is, “As you consider your future in Winona, what are your hopes and what are the issues you’d like to see addressed?” Ratliff added, “The last question is really about participation and engagement. How do you see your participation strengthening this process and what role do you play?”

The responses will help fuel the work of the city’s recently appointed Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, city staff, and consultants from HGKI to write a new comprehensive plan over the course of 2022. Identifying information will be removed and the responses people give will be made publicly available, as well, Ratliff said.

The committee and consultants will review the issues and ideas raised as they move into the next phase of plan developments, identifying strategies and priorities, Ratliff said. For example, she explained, “If we get 200 comments about sidewalks, we know that we have to work on sidewalks.” The next question for the committee will be, “Now that we’ve identified these things, how do we get where we want to go?” Ratliff added.

In addition to the steering committee, the city will also be forming several subcommittees that will meet in the coming months to discuss specific topics within the comprehensive plan. If citizens want to serve on a subcommittee, they may email Ratliff at engage@engagewinona.org. Appointments to the subcommittees will be made by the steering committee, Ratliff said.

The list of topics includes: land use and development, including goals for redeveloping particular parts of the city, as well as the city’s potential southward expansion; housing and neighborhoods; economic development, including workforce issues; the environment; transportation; historic preservation; accessible government, a topic city officials described as being focused on increasing participation and representation in city government; arts and culture; parks and recreation; and “transformative projects,” which refers to specific, major developments or projects.

There are in-person meetings today at 1 p.m. at the Winona Friendship Center, tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the Eagles Club, next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Whalen’s restaurant at Westfield Golf Course, and next Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Sobieski Park Pavilion, as well as virtual meetings on Friday at 11 a.m., next Monday at 6 p.m. and next Wednesday at 8 a.m. Visit www.facebook.com/CityofWinonaCompPlan/events for more details.

The small group discussions are designed to both gather public input, but also give Winonans a chance to meet each other and talk together about their community, Ratliff said.

For those who don’t have time to sit down and chat, an online survey is open through December 15 at www.surveymonkey.com/r/your-ideas-for-winona. Residents may also add to a map of areas in Winona that residents appreciate or think need improvements at hkgi.mysocialpinpoint.com/winona-comprehensive-plan#. So far, Lake Park and the bluff trails are getting lots of praise, and residents highlighted numerous traffic issues — from uncontrolled intersections to train crossings — as needing work.

Additionally, residents may share their thoughts over the phone by leaving a up to three minute voicemail at 507-312-9486.

Chris@winonapost.com