Report says Warren must reinvent itself

WARREN — The city needs to rethink its aged infrastructure and design roads, waterlines and wastewater lines that acknowledge Warren’s decline in population, while seeking more diverse, small-to-midsize employers instead of searching out low-paying behemoth employers, a draft of Warren’s new comprehensive plan recommends.

A shrinking tax base led to decreased investments in road, water and wastewater systems, which are more expansive than the area now needs in light of the decades-long population constriction, the plan states.

The comprehensive plan is designed to assist the city’s decision making for future growth, development and redevelopment.

The draft was given to council members last week and should be available to the public in a few weeks, according to Nicholas Coggins, interim director of the Trumbull County Planning Commission, which has been working on the $99,000 plan the past three years.

The plan’s authors recommend a project manager is assigned to make sure it is implemented.

“Warren ought to pivot away from seeking large employers of unskilled or underpaid contingent labor and instead focus on diversifying and fragmenting its economy,” the report notes. “Nearly a third of the city’s workforce is employed in the healthcare field, with manufacturing and retail roughly tied as distant second.”

The city’s economy will be healthier and more robust if there is a larger variety of employment opportunities.

“The only true ballast for a community’s labor market and buying power is a balanced mix of industrial, commercial and professional enterprises comprised of small-to-midsize employers that are not interdependent on one another to survive,” the report authors noted.

Substantial improvements are needed for the city’s wastewater department, including the separation of a stretch of storm water and wastewater sewers that service a part of High Street. There is no plan in place to separate the sewers.

“The presence of any combined sewers is a grave cause of concern, as during heavy rain storms or other high-flow events, stormwater can mix with sewage and thus waste is directly deposited into natural drainage areas before treatment is able to occur,” according to the report.

The city’s 57-year-old main pump station is in constant need of repairs and, perhaps, replacement. Warren’s six outside pump stations also are due for improvements.

The estimated costs of repairs are in the range of $70 million, according to the report. A capital improvement plan has been developed by the department and delivered to the administration.

Current revenue sources are not enough to do all of the improvements to the wastewater system.

The city’s water distribution system has a similar problem, because of the age of its lines.

There are approximately 300 miles of water main lines in the city and 86 percent of them were installed prior to 1969, which means they are on the fringe of their useful life, the report states. There also is concern about the replacement of 80 miles of asbestos-lined transmission pipes potentially still in use and an estimated 600 road-to service lines still containing lead.

“Repair and replace projects must become a priority and the crux of an improvement plan that firmly takes stock of the department’s position,” the report noted. “An integral component of this process will also be, as with the wastewater assets, examining ways to right size existing water infrastructure and correcting any dead-end lines.”

Although Warren’s streets were designed for a city with a larger population, some room for expansion exists on the city’s Southwest side, the report states.

There are many incomplete streets in the area, as well as a wealth of land ready for development, according to the plan.

Because the city brings in less cash, but maintains the same amount of road, many of the city’s roads are experiencing deterioration.

“Warren’s road network was built for a population approaching double the current number of residents and employees,” the report noted. “This has had an exponential effect on the city’s resources and its ability to sustain the current level of transportation infrastructure, leaving more assets to be maintained with (fewer) tax dollars.”

The deteriorated streets should provide the infrastructure for the city to reinvent itself, the report states.

The key to the city’s future growth is its land use plan, which is derived from how the land is currently used, the report states. The future land use map provides a basis for establishing zoning districts that are appropriate for the city.

The plan projects the largest percentage of the city — 35 percent — will be used for residential single-family homes; 28 percent for undeveloped property; 10 percent for commercial use; 9 percent for institutional use; 4 percent for industrial use; and 4 percent for multi-unit residential use.

Maintaining current commercial districts should be an imperative, along with the addition of new commercial areas, including the former site of Western Reserve High School, because of the decision to locate a condominium development nearby, the report states.

The report also recommends the city expand the use of the amphitheater by broadening its programming and leveraging it to attract a more diverse customer base.