After claiming victory in her bid for reelection to the Ward 5 seat on Lakewood’s city council, during an election season where the most debated topic was development in the city, Karen Harrison …
After claiming victory in her bid for reelection to the Ward 5 seat on Lakewood’s city council, during an election season where the most debated topic was development in the city, Karen Harrison spoke about the need for people to get involved in the process to ensure their input is heard.
“We had dismal turn out to some of our open houses on changes to the zoning ordinance,” she said at the time. “People should go to our planning commission meetings, where they can hear some of these important topics discussed, and provide their feedback.”
But Allison Scheck, public engagement and operations manager with the community resources department, knows a lot of people don’t have the time during their busy weeks to spend an evening at city hall.
“Some people are comfortable with public meetings, and speaking in front of people, but others aren’t,” she said. “There has to be other tools in the tool belt to get information out to people.”
One way the city is finding to be promising is a website called Lakewood Together. The site — www.LakewoodTogether.org — hosts an online community engagement portal where residents can voice their opinions on top subjects, including, of course, development. The site includes videos, links to documents and plans, and places for resident comments and feedback.
“City Council is interested in providing residents more and more opportunities online to give us their comments and ideas. Lakewood Together helps us accomplish that,” said City Manager Kathy Hodgson. “What’s great about Lakewood Together is that it has a range of ways for residents to participate in our community discussions, and it’s all in one easy-to-reach place.”
The website was piloted by the Community Resources department during its Imagine Lakewood! master plan update. During that process, the department received about 4,000 unique visitors, 700 of whom downloaded some of the available information, and more than 1,000 contributed ideas or gave feedback.
“The site offers a suite of different tools for residents to do a variety of things,” Scheck said. “We wanted to look at the full spectrum of engagement, so there are maps people can use, and a storytelling tool where they can upload videos and photos.”
City staff is currently reexamining some areas of Lakewood’s zoning ordinance, including parking, height restrictions and other architectural features, and mixed use neighborhoods. The city, with a population of more than 154,000 according to the last census count, held open houses to discuss these topics. But Travis Parker, Lakewood’s planning director estimated only 60 to 70 people showed up.
“That’s not nearly the number of people that found this information online,” he said. “We’re finding 10 to 25 times as many people are watching our meetings online instead of in person.”
Before going to city council for approval, changes to the zoning ordinance will go before the planning commission. And that’s another place people can stay up to date without actually being there.
By going to www.LakewoodSpeaks.org, residents can view staff presentations, which are recorded two weeks before the actual hearing, and then leave comments and questions for staff.
“This site is still being fine-tuned, but once it is, we’ll want to do the same for city council,” Parker said. “With these kinds of options, busy people can participate in the public process without having to devote a night to it.”
Lakewood isn’t planning to cut down on open houses or public meetings, as some residents still prefer these methods, Hodgson added. Instead, embracing the digital world is a chance to bring in more voices.
“So often people only find out about the changes when they’re happening, instead of when they’re being decided,” Parker said. “This is the future of the community, and everyone should have a voice.”