‘A Community of Communities’ – County plans for future with its comprehensive plan
Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 6, 2004
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series discussing Shelby County’s Comprehensive Plan.
In January 2002, Shelby County residents embarked on a journey to develop a plan for the future.
Now, more than two years later, that plan has been developed with a clearly stated goal – to become a &uot;Community of Communities.&uot;
Planners, officials and the group of residents who collaborated to develop the county’s comprehensive plan see the county &uot;as a regional community made up of many unique cities, towns, neighborhoods, villages and hamlets, each place with its own identity.&uot;
Recently, the county hosted a series of public hearings for residents to look over the comprehensive plan, titled &uot;A Path to the Future,&uot; and submit their input.
The county’s Planning Commission and County Commission still must approve the proposed comprehensive plan.
Writers of the plan state that functionality as a community depends on a community’s organization around a central activity core which could be a traditional town square, a courthouse, a commercial area, a neighborhood school or church or a general store in a rural area.
A community is also connected in a way other than by vehicle and it is &uot;endearing to … residents, by providing close knit communities of the people who live, work and play in Shelby County.&uot;
The plan states that &uot;at the heart of this vision is the concept that a pattern of land development based on the traditional neighborhood – focused on a neighborhood center providing for the daily needs of its residents internally – solves many of the problems of growth management facing communities today, while also creating or reinforcing the ‘sense of peace’ necessary for people to truly feel connected to their community.&uot;
Writers feel that creating new compact communities will allow residents a higher quality of life &uot;in walkable, livable communities&uot; with as many services nearby as possible.
Shelby County officials created special legislation in 1982 which has allowed the county to be in the unique situation to manage growth.
The legislation created the county’s Planning Commission as the decision making body for subdivision and zoning regulations.
The drawback, according to county officials, has always been that those regulations can only be enforced in unincorporated beats of the county where a majority vote was received following a complicated process.
In 1996, the county created a General Development Plan which outlined a development strategy. Unfortunately, the plan was reactive in nature and focused on managing development and its impacts.
Some of the benefits of the plan, however, have proven to be quite successful including the county’s park and recreation facilities program, the establishment of the Shelby County Economic and Industrial Development Authority and Shelby West Corporate Park.
According to the plan, &uot;the 1996 GDP was a policy plan, having no connection, intended or otherwise, to any kind of map-based land-use plan or development plan that could facilitate greater connections and control over the patterns of land development.&uot;
&uot;Lack of such direct connection to land and property must certainly be considered a weakness of this plan,&uot; the new comprehensive plan states.
In an attempt to get the community involved in the development of a plan for Shelby County, officials have used several outreach methods including the creation of the Committee of 19, a citizens’ group charged with considering issues of growth in Shelby County; public awareness through media releases, articles, ads and displays; public education through town hall meetings, publications and brochures; and seeking public input through meetings and workshops.
The plan states that public participation ensures that information reaches the public in a timely, complete and simple manner; those who want to participate have an opportunity; and that staff members value &uot;a robust and open debate on public policy issues.&uot;
&uot;From the beginning, the Shelby County Comprehensive Plan has been committed to providing broad-based and continuous opportunities for public participation through the planning process.&uot;
A Vision for Shelby County
In getting the community involved, Shelby County’s leaders began to see a number of common themes.
&uot;These common themes provide the basis for understanding the priorities of each community as well as strategies for dealing with community issues,&uot; the plan states.
The primary concern heard throughout the county was population growth.
&uot;The perception of the level of growth in a community influences attitudes on quality of life,&uot; according to the plan, with specific issues including schools, roads, environment and public safety affected by growth.
Five stages of growth were determined throughout the county.
&uot;Modest growth&uot; has been felt by the Montevallo and Columbiana areas; but serious impacts have yet to be felt.
The Vincent/Harpersville area will soon be an &uot;emerging growth&uot; area, especially if an area-wide sewer system is established.
Growth is occurring at a &uot;rapid pace&uot; in the Calera and Chelsea areas, which are located at points along Interstate 65 and Highway 280. This &uot;rapid pace&uot; has not allowed for patterns of development to be established yet.
&uot;This is a critical point in the growth stage because the patterns that are set now will determine the shape and direction of future growth and once these patterns are set, they will be difficult, if not impossible, to change later if they are not in keeping with community desires,&uot; the plan states.
The Pelham and Alabaster areas including Helena have been experiencing &uot;sustained growth&uot; for some time; but there are still substantial amounts of land available for expansion.
For the past two decades, the Oak Mountain area has been experiencing sustained growth, and although there will continue to be some in the future, it has been predicted to taper off with commercial growth and employment center establishment being the main focus in this area.
Other themes of the new comprehensive plan include communication, cooperation and planning; growth management; organization and governmental structure; and services and service delivery.
The plan contends that &uot;a communication and networking strategy is recommended to foster increased communication and coordination among all public and semi-public organizations.&uot;
Growth management techniques which are discussed include countywide development regulations, tax-base sharing, transferable development rights and infrastructure prior to approved development.
Dealing with the financial costs of growth is another concern of Shelby County residents.
Strategies to deal with those costs include raising revenue to pay for additional demand of services and facilities; reducing costs through efficient operation; and making tough decisions about the levels of service to be provided to citizens.
The Plan Itself
The Shelby County Comprehensive Plan is divided into three sections … What we have, Where we’re going and How we’re going to get there.
The first section, What we have, describes the condition of the county today.
The second section, Where we’re going, describes the goals and policies or guiding development in a way that will achieve the vision of the plan. This section has five components: the strategic development concept, the community design manual, the strategic development plan map, an economic development guide and a public facilities guide.
Part three of the plan, How we’re going to get there, is implementation. This section includes an action plan which prioritizes steps to be taken in carrying out the plan.
Next week’s edition of the Shelby County Reporter will discuss the countywide overview, or part 1 of the comprehensive plan. Parts 2 and 3 will follow in the coming weeks