Danville opens storefront space where residents can share input on comprehensive plan

A physical space in Danville’s River District will invite community members to share their input as the city develops its 20-year comprehensive plan.

Plan Danville, a community planning process, now occupies a storefront on North Union Street. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, city leaders said that having a physical space for this process will make it easier for the community to be involved — and emphasized how necessary that involvement is.

“This is your chance to take part in this community development opportunity,” said Diana Schwartz, CEO of the River District Association. “Everybody is welcome. And not only welcome, but needed. Because when everybody participates, what happens? Really, the outcomes are much richer for all.”

The 20-year comprehensive plan will be reviewed every five years and guide things like land use development, zoning and prioritizing future development, according to a news release from the city. And Plan Danville will ensure that community members are part of that process.

A plan like this is needed now, said Mayor Alonzo Jones, because of the growth and progress that Danville has seen in recent years.

“Our city is undergoing a remarkable resurgence,” Jones said. “Nearly 4,000 jobs have been announced in the region since 2018 … and we are confident that more jobs are on the way, so more than ever, change is coming. This is the time for a plan, just like this, that we are announcing today.”

The release calls the storefront, at 206 N. Union St., “the central hub of engagement and activity” and “a place designed for capturing the thoughts and inspirations of all ages so that we can build a bright future together.”

Community ambassadors will serve as liaisons, reaching residents in underrepresented or underserved parts of the city and organizing grassroots initiatives.

Ken Larking, Danville’s city manager, said the city has never had such ambassadors before. The Danville Regional Foundation provided a grant of about $200,000 for the ambassador element.

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever done,” Larking said. “We’ve never had community ambassadors, like the folks here, that will be out in the community, going to the hardest to reach people, to make sure that their voices are heard.”

One of the ambassadors, Roshay Johnson, said that in the past, not everyone has felt like they were part of Danville’s plans for the future.

“I’m really looking forward to having a space where we can finally hear from people who have not been a part of the conversation, who have been ignored for so long,” Johnson said. “It isn’t something that we’re just talking about, we’re actually going to put some action behind these words.”

Johnson invited anyone from the community to approach her and the other ambassadors, saying, “We want to hear from you guys.”

The community ambassadors will lead conversations in the coming months, both at the Plan Danville location and directly in neighborhoods, the release said.

Inside the space, residents can share input with interactive activities, as well as talk to community ambassadors. Photo by Grace Mamon.

Inside the space, there are interactive elements, like a wall where people can place sticky notes under categories to list the city’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges.

Renee Burton, the city’s director of planning and zoning, who is leading the Plan Danville initiative, said that a physical space is important for this work because it tells people they are welcome to come in and share their opinions.

“This gives them one central spot where they know they are welcome, and they are encouraged to come,” Burton said. “We want to hear their voices. We want to hear their worries, their concerns, their joys, we want to hear it all.”

Never again will a community member be able to say that their voice was not heard, Jones said.

“We want everyone involved,” he said. “The next time we have this conversation, we won’t have to hear someone say, ‘I wasn’t involved.’ Everyone can be involved. All you have to do is stop by here, 206 North Union Street. You will not get the opportunity ever again to say you were not involved.”

by GRACE MAMON is a reporter for Cardinal News.