GARDINER — City officials are encouraging residents to share their ideas about the community’s future at an event Saturday aimed at helping shape a city plan for the next decade.

The Heart & Soul project event, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Gardiner High School, is the next step in developing a new comprehensive plan for the city.

Nate Rudy, director of economic and community development, said the state-mandated comprehensive plan provides a framework of community opinion that city officials will use as a guide for making decisions and changes in the coming years. Rudy said a comprehensive plan will be finished around July.

He said it sets the tone for how the city will develop its economy and balance that with maintaining residential neighborhoods.

By trying to capture the community’s will, the plan provides a tool for city officials and committee members to use when they make decisions about issues affecting residents, Rudy said.

He pointed to the upcoming City Council issue of whether to allow small livestock in residential areas as the type of wide-reaching decisions that would benefit from a snapshot of community opinion.

Rudy said the city’s current Comprehensive Plan was finished in 1997 and updated in 2010.

At Saturday’s event, project organizers will present the ideas collected from residents so far about what’s important to them in the community.

The information has been gathered through informal conversations, one-on-one interviews and activities at a December Heart & Soul event.

The two-year process is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Orton Family Foundation, a Vermont-based foundation that helps communities in the Northeast and Rocky Mountain West plan for their futures.

Meaghan Carlson, project coordinator for Heart & Soul, said it’s important for residents to participate Saturday because it’s a unique opportunity to have their voices heard about the direction of the city.

“I really believe people should be happy with their community, proud of their community,” she said. “If people in Gardiner don’t feel that, we should change that.”

Carlson, who lives in Gardiner with her husband and their 2-year old-daughter, said the event is the next step in making the community stronger by sharing ideas about how it should develop.

Event organizers also plan to show a short video of some of the interviews and lead a discussion with the help of a facilitator about what they’ve gathered and the next steps in the process.

During and after the free lunch, participants will divide into smaller groups focusing on the different topics that interest them most. 

So far, Carlson said, people have put the Kennebec River and the Gardiner Common high on the list of resources in the city they value.

Residents also have placed an importance on community relations and a more vibrant downtown, Carlson said.

“Everybody wants to see a busy downtown, of course,” she said. “It’s too cute to not see it busy. We all want that.”

Carlson said the event also will feature door prizes such as ski-lift tickets and a gift certificate for a stay at a bed-and-breakfast. There won’t be any activities designed for children, but Carlson encouraged middle and high school students to attend, too.

Carlson said they’ll also be launching a website Saturday with information about the project and community event listings.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]