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Steady Growth in Community Requires Strategic Comprehensive Plan

A robust downtown business district is a major attraction in the community of Indianola.

Like a number of communities surrounding the Des Moines metro area, Indianola has experienced a steady population increase over the past 30 years — attracting those seeking a quieter existence than a large city can provide. This increased growth had Indianola residents and officials concerned about maintaining the small-town character while addressing the housing, environmental, and transportation needs to accommodate the influx of new residents.

With the surge for new housing and other growth issues, a comprehensive plan study previously completed in 2011 was soon out of date. Snyder & Associates was enlisted in 2019 to investigate the current trends and create a new comprehensive plan to guide the community going forward.

Comprehensive Plan Provides a Road Map for the Future

A comprehensive plan is a long‐range policy guide for making decisions about the development of a community. It sets out broad policy directions for growth, development, and redevelopment. A successful comprehensive plan represents the community’s vision for the future and is therefore heavily dependent upon public participation. Residents, business leaders, and city staff work together to identify the issues and challenges that are facing the community, along with the assets and opportunities that can be better utilized.

These assembled groups then collaborate on developing a vision of the community, followed by a plan of action to achieve that vision. The plan created for Indianola analyzed and incorporated a wide variety of components, including the natural environment, population, current and future land use, transportation, parks and trails, economic development, public facilities and services, and growth management.

Since a comprehensive plan is a guidance document, its recommendations must be implemented using the necessary tools in order to be effective. This happens through the policies, programs, and ordinances established by community leaders. The comprehensive plan created for the City of Indianola incorporated a detailed implementation strategy containing the appropriate actions and resources that will help city officials and staff to achieve the goals outlined in the plan.

Iowa Smart Planning Principles Employed in Creation of Comprehensive Plan

The Snyder & Associates planning team was guided by the Iowa Smart Planning Principles throughout the entire study. These principles were implemented to ensure that planners consider and apply specific ideas during the planning process. These principles include:

Guided by these principles, the planning team completed the entire project, which included project management, leading the planning process, researching demographic data, developing population projections, drafting the text, writing and executing public opinion surveys, and creating existing and future condition maps using GIS. The team used the information gathered throughout the planning process to create objectives that meet the needs of Indianola.

Public Engagement Strategies Critical for Understanding Issues

A Project Management Team work session.

Snyder & Associates facilitated public engagement throughout the study period using multiple methods. A Project Management Team was assembled to provide input through a series of interactive meetings. They reviewed all components, including maps of existing conditions, concept plans for transportation, parks and trails, land use, and infrastructure.

The team consisted of people who represented various public and private groups. This team assisted with the identification of issues, strengths, constraints, opportunities, goals, and objectives. They discussed where Indianola is today and where the team would like to see Indianola in the future. One method the group used to articulate their vision for the future was by participating in a “headline” exercise. In this exercise, participants listed the news headlines they hoped to read about their community within the next 20 years. These reflected visions for transportation, technology, economic development, education, and recreation.

The team also gathered helpful insight into the community’s values and preferences through an online survey. The survey was distributed through email, social media, and on the city’s website. It garnered a remarkably high response rate with over 1,600 participants — an extraordinary number based on the size of the community. A separate in-person event held at Simpson College focused on engaging college students in the community.

Additionally, our team set up an engagement booth at the “Tunes and Treats” event. The booth included display boards showing maps, survey results, and comment sections. This allowed residents who might not have been able to attend a meeting or open house to learn more about the comprehensive plan. They also distributed flyers at the annual Balloon Classic Parade to help bring awareness to the online survey. Where appropriate, past planning efforts were incorporated into this comprehensive plan update. This included the following plans:

  • 2008 Trails Master Plan
  • 2009 Strategic Recreation Action Plan
  • 2013 Indianola Retail Analysis Study
  • 2014 Iowa Upper Story Housing Feasibility Study
  • 2016 Strategic Planning Session
  • 2017 Citizen Survey
  • 2017 Warren County Hazard Mitigation Plan
  • 2018 Urban Revitalization Plan
  • 2018 Downtown Assessment Visit Report
  • 2019 City Square Master Plan

Core Areas of Concern Determined During Planning Process

The online public survey asked participants to prioritize eight elements — community character, parks and recreation, transportation options, educational opportunities, housing opportunities, climate change, economic development, and natural environment. Each one of these areas has a relationship with the existing and future land use in the community. By reviewing this information, the Project Management Team developed the vision statement for the city, focusing on education, business, amenities, and small-town character.

mom and two kids walking down a forested path

Photo credit: Indianola Parks & Recreation Department

Land use best practices call for directing development toward city centers and prioritizing redevelopment and infill over greenfield development. Through adaptive reuse policies, downtown revitalization and historic preservation are best practices that should take priority in Indianola.

Cities should be designed so that residents can be healthy, active, engaged, and able to age in place. This means developing mixed-use, mixed density, and mixed-income neighborhoods, such that daily needs are within walking or biking distance, including schools, parks, shopping, and employment centers. These elements lead to a high quality of life that is attractive to residents and leads to attraction and retention of businesses.

Adoption & Implementation of Comprehensive Plan Key to Creating Sustainable & Measurable Success

Elevate Indianola poster with hot air balloonsThe new, Elevate Indianola Comprehensive Plan was formally adopted in May of 2020 and created a 20-year vision for the entire community. Indianola officials have expressed their commitment to implementing the goals of the plan with each decision they make. The Snyder & Associates planning team gained support for the plan by engaging and educating the public throughout the entire process. Public meetings with residents and businesses created a sense of ownership within the community. Because of the overwhelming community acceptance of the plan’s vision, support for the plan’s implementation naturally followed. The implementation schedule identified the type of action, timeframe, resources, and the partnering organizations for each action.

The plan aims to make a difference in the lives of residents by preserving the small-town atmosphere and high quality of life that originally attracted new residents to the community. By addressing educational needs, local business, and public amenities, the City of Indianola will build upon its existing strengths and minimize its weaknesses to help guide the community into the foreseeable future.