The town of Dunkirk is looking for more participation in its comprehensive planning. At a recent steering committee meeting held in the town hall, there were growing concerns over the lack of interest in the involvement of the community.
Out of more than 100 people contacted to join the focus groups, only 37 responded and 23 of them attended. There were mixed opinions on this number during the meeting. MRB Group and Environmental Design and Research thought this was a very good turnout. Planning Board Chairman Vincent Vecchiarella was not happy about it.
Groups represented and labeled so far are as follows: Business Development, Interjurisdictional, Agricultural and Cultural-Historic.
"There is some concern the seniors and youth are underrepresented," MRB Group Business Development Director Diana Smith said.
MRB Group Project Manager Connie Sowards added it doesn't matter if it is one or 10 people in a group, because all the feedback was fascinating.
"I am disappointed not more people responded," Vecchiarella said.
Sowards and Smith agreed that in their experience this is a very impressive number.
"We let the meetings go as long as they went," Sowards said. "There was some very clear positives and negatives."
Every group felt the sense of community was a big topic.
Smith felt the interjurisdictional group had a very impressive turnout and had to be broken into two different meetings.
SUNY Fredonia Presi-dent Virginia Horvath had a lot to say at the focus group.
"She leads by example," Smith said. "She had a great idea about student involvement. Students perusing a GPS system that shows points of interest at each location. It was a brilliant idea, and I have never heard of this before."
"The college president talked a lot about eco-tourism," Smith continued. "She talked a lot about the shoreline, hiking trails and kite boarding."
The question asked after each meeting was if the group would like to meet again, and most felt they would meet again after a substantial amount of feedback is collected.
Some retired grape farmers gave their input on recruiting the town of Dunkirk into the perfect area to grow grapes.
"We can't ignore the impact of grape growing," Smith said. "There is a lot of importance in the industry."
Supervisor Richard Purol was surprised to hear that.
"When they pull out ConAgra it is going to be a whole different ball game," he said. "Wine grapes make a big difference."
"The interesting part of the conversation with them (retired grape farmers) is these folks believe the way to really succeed is to create wineries," Smith added.
The Historic group had a lot to say about the underground railroad and the Chautauqua Institution.
"No one can replicate what Dunkirk has," Dr. Jay Bishop said at a focus group meeting.
One thing the town is trying to get rid of is the East versus West mentality.
"Divided we stand," Purol said. "We have one highway department, two fire departments, and we can't get them together. Nowhere do we touch."
Environmental Design and Research Planning Director Jane Rice spoke of the best way to handle this situation.
"The best way to look at this is how to connect everyone emotionally," she said. "We need a lot of pride for the whole town; make them worry less about borders."
"Part of the identity of the town itself is to establish boundaries," Smith added. "We need to approach marketing."
Vecchiarella wants to get more people interested in being part of what happens in their town.
"We should do another outreach again," he said. "Tell them if they can't come to send a representative. Give them another opportunity."
Rice agreed a second chance was appropriate.
"People can come to these (steering) meetings and get involved that way," she said.
If he missed the chance to be part of the focus groups, Vecchiarella said he would want the opportunity to go.
"I wouldn't want to miss out on being part of something important," he said. "Reach out to the community and give them another chance. Right now I feel the website isn't encouraging a lot of people to come to the meetings. We need to get the message out there and make them feel welcome."
The surveys will be going out soon to the whole community.
"We need to keep people informed," Vecchiarella said. "This has communitywide value and people can come and give their opinions."