Ideas from residents of Warsaw are being weighed, and at times shot down, in William Washington’s community input series on enhancing the town.
On Jan. 16 the councilman and music teacher held the second informal session in his initiative titled “Make Warsaw Better.” He noticed that the six citizens in the audience were an entirely different group from the one that attended his first session, apart from Town Manager John Slusser.
“Maybe some of the old crowd will come back next time and start compounding [ideas with the new group],” said Washington.
The members of the second session shared ideas concerning ventures that could attract visitors and new business.
Former land developer Roy Rogers proposed bringing privately owned “mom and pop stores” to Warsaw.
“If you can get the small stores to survive, then bigger stores will want to come to you,” Rogers added.
Mayor Mark Milstead suggested holding a special meeting with officials from similar Virginia towns, specifically Gordonsville, to discover the methods they used in their revitalization efforts.
Washington brought up the idea of surveying the residents of the Warsaw and Richmond County to find out where they like to shop, eat and go for entertainment.
“Let’s get these…dispositions about commerce so I can understand who our target audience is,” he said. “Then we’ll know who to approach and we’ll have data that says, ‘We want you here.’”
Slusser differed, saying that Warsaw should “adopt realistic goals” instead of “trying to be something that we may have difficulty achieving.”
“One thing about the survey is that the things that people want [here in town] may not be realistic,” Slusser said, adding that “big box stores” like Target would be unattainable.
He also said that, given the character of the town, Warsaw would serve itself best by developing its brand identity as a residential community.
“What we do have is a lot of land and good schools,” he said. “If you really want to do something, maybe the town needs to consider investing in infrastructure.”
In response, Washington said the goal of his input series was to strengthen community involvement by gathering residents’ ideas and letting the people get involved in a comfortable and open environment.
Then, later on in the series, the town could decide which ideas will and won’t work, Washington added.
“What I don’t want to happen is someone says, ‘Wait a minute: we’ll never be able to do that,’” he continued. “What’s going to happen is we’re going to stop offering up any ideas outside the box [and] people will not respect you if you have a defeatist attitude.”
Slusser interjected that he was contributing as a resident himself to find ways to better the town and county.
“I hope you don’t think I was throwing cold water on it,” he said. “On the contrary, I was trying to suggest that there is something that households [in the town] can do.”
“I’m thinking outside the box too,” Slusser added. “Don’t discourage me.”
Washington stressed that developing a brand identity for Warsaw meant bringing citizens to want the same thing through a dialogue that his session is building.
”What I’m trying to do is develop a process so that we have something in place to actually bring change about,” said Washington.
“Other than the Main Street program, we don’t have a strong community organized effort to change Warsaw,” he added.
Rogers stressed that involvement from citizens within the county but outside the town was key to the community’s success.
“If you bring big business in…they’re coming for the people that surround the town,” said Rogers. “You’ve got to get the people of Richmond County to merge within this Warsaw group in some kind of way.”
The councilman said he hopes to remain “vigilant” in his resolve to continue hosting the input series.
“People have to believe that something is possible and that’s my barrier right now,” Washington added. “My plan is to stick with it, and then when people feel like I’m not going to give up, maybe they’ll start showing up and coming.”