Plan commissioners last week discussed the possibility of forming a committee to study preserving Waunakee’s downtown character. How that committee will come about and exactly what it will achieve remains to be seen.

Interestingly, when the Tribune shared the story about the meeting on the paper’s Facebook page, one person asked, “What character?”

Prior to the discussion last week, village staff had supplied the commission with downtown preservation plans from other communities, including Waunakee’s Central Business District Plan from 15 years ago. With a set goal of revitalizing Waunakee’s downtown back then, a number of different subcommittees worked with a municipal planner, village trustees, an economic development commission, the Chamber of Commerce and village staff on that document. The village conducted a survey of residents, and from all of that work, the plan was created, and several goals were achieved in the following years.

The Village Center was built and finally, in 2014, the Department of Transportation rebuilt Main Street. The village used that construction period to add decorative lighting and pavement, planters, benches and other touches recommended in the plan. Other businesses, such as Summit Credit Union, the Hovde Properties, Madison and Main Apartments and Acker Builders redeveloped sites on West Main Street. Existing businesses also made improvements. Many would likely agree the downtown is more attractive because of the effort.

Because so many people worked together on that 2003 Waunakee Central Business District Plan, it seemed to have a lot of buy-in. Now if a committee is formed to work on preserving Waunakee’s character, it will need to engage the community in much the same way.

Several questions remain, including the one posed on Facebook. What is Waunakee’s character? What should be preserved and why?

The plans for other communities provided by Waunakee staff focused on areas for preservation and included examples of historic architecture to set standards for different districts. In River Falls, the plan cites amenities such as the riverfront.

Any committee working to preserve Waunakee’s character will have an exciting opportunity to explore the unique areas that define Waunakee, as well. As Waunakee’s downtown area has redeveloped, new focal points have emerged, such as the Village Center and nearby pond.

This village’s downtown redevelopment continues now with the new library and the new apartment building on East Main Street under construction. Like the Waunakee Village Center, the library will become a new gathering space for area residents.

While we may gripe about increased traffic downtown, clearly Waunakee has made progress since the 2003 plan was adopted. Hopefully, that added traffic is an indication that people want to come downtown and be part of what it has to offer.

And hopefully, a committee tasked with preserving the downtown character will help define this village’s unique characteristics so progress can continue here.

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