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Washington's new comprehensive plan is a template seeking to foster growth, enhance livability

The Washington city square
Tim Shelley
The Washington city square

A 1970s promotional campaign for the town of Washington-- then comprising little more than 6,000 residents-- touted the Tazewell County burg as a “City on the Grow.” Nearly a half century and more than 10,000 additional residents later, Washington is still growing. Recent data shows that the city’s population was bolstered by another 6.2 percent from 2010-2020, even as the state of Illinois’ overall population decreased.

A new comprehensive plan for Washington was created to accommodate further growth over the next several years, according to Jon Oliphant, planning and development director for the town.

“It’s kind of a three-legged stool, is how I would refer to it,” said Oliphant of the plan, which was showcased during a recent public meeting held at Five Points Washington Community Center. “In no particular order there is land use, economic development and transportation. Really, they all go hand in hand.”

Three major transportation projects are the hub of the plan, including the reconstruction of U.S. Business Route 24 through the heart of the city. This aspect of the plan has actually been part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s five-year plan for the road for the past couple of years. “We think that significant opportunities could arise once that construction occurs,” said Oliphant.

Other transportation and land use projects include a realignment of the U.S. Route 24 and Nofsinger Road intersection to increase the safety of the junction and align Nofsinger Road with Dallas Road, and an extension of Freedom Parkway to connect with North Cummings Lane.

“From a non-residential standpoint, all of these (projects) are really important for the city’s future, and we are really excited about all three,” Oliphant said, adding that economic growth for the city will be largely dependent on the transportation projects.

“Just being able to improve the look of (the Route 24 corridor), upgrading some of the pedestrian amenities that would be associated with it, being able to assist with some of the stormwater collection that is an issue along that corridor-- we feel that once some of those improvements are done we are hopeful that we will start to see some additional private investment from some of the existing property and business owners,” he said.

Oliphant feels that a 223-acre parcel of farmland near the Route 24-Nofsinger Road intersection that was purchased by the city in 2013-- and has sat undeveloped since-- may become more attractive to potential tenants once the upgrades are completed.

“Right now not only is it a bit of a safety concern for people trying to access that property, but we also need to be able to get infrastructure onto that property such as water and sewer. Really, this is hat in hand to being able to get the kind of demand that could be there for that property,” Oliphant explained. The planning and development director is confident that once the Freedom Parkway extension is completed that demand will rise for new commercial development, and perhaps multi-family dwellings, along the link to North Cummings Lane. “We’ve got water and sewer along that

corridor, but we need to have the road in place to make it fully accessible and of interest to any prospective developers or future businesses,” said Oliphant.

A grant was received by the city of Washington from IDOT to launch the plan in 2019, according to Oliphant.

“We’re always open to exploring other grant opportunities. A lot of these grants require some sort of local match, so we always need to be mindful of budgeting at least some of the anticipated funds for some of these projects, but we’ve been generally successful in getting grants for a variety of programs through the years,” he said.

A public meeting held at Five Points Washington on Thursday, December 16 sought feedback on design considerations for the comprehensive plan, along with input on potential land use variances that could be associated with the project.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this. A plan is really only a vision, and ultimately requires money to complete along with a buy-in from the residents and other stakeholders,” said Oliphant. “Generally speaking, we are just trying to get feedback on (the plan) to make sure there is not vehement disagreement with some of the proposals that are being discussed at this point.”

Public recommendations for Washington’s new comprehensive plan include transforming the abandoned Georgetown Apartment property into a park, constructing public restrooms near Washington Square, fostering community creativity through increased emphasis on the arts, and investing in “placemaking,” or creating a destination where more out-of-towners would like to visit and spend money.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.