County seeks public input for growth plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Shelby County planning staff have completed a draft copy of a comprehensive plan, and now

commissioners are preparing to present the 20-year growth document to the public for comment.

Following the public hearing process, which Planning Commission chairman Ralph Thomas hopes to complete by late September, county commssioners will decide whether to adopt the plan or make changes.

County Commissioner Lindsey Allison encouraged the planning commission to move forward with the public hearing process quickly to get some of the plan’s action items on the next legislative agenda.

&uot;We look forward to this plan and hope we can do everything to implement it,&uot; Allison said.

On Monday night, county commissioners held a joint meeting with the planning commission to address any problems commissioners might have with the draft document. Two primary issues already indicated include proposed countywide zoning and impact fees.

Several commissioners said they wanted to move forward with adoption of the comprehensive plan despite their concerns about mandatory county-wide zoning.

Also, planning commissioner Len Ward wrote in a letter his concerns about impact fees, which are listed in the plan’s action items but are not included otherwise.

According to Ward, commissioners may have been pressured to leave impact fees out of the plan.

&uot;I think there’s been encouragement to not include impact fees,&uot; he said.

Impact fees are an alternative method of funding capital improvements. Under an impact fee system, builders pay the county set fees for new construction.

&uot;It’s not a cure-all, but part of a long-range planning tool. It offers an alternative source of revenue,&uot; Ward said. &uot;I don’t think it’s being addressed. It’s something that’s not being looked at for some reason.&uot;

Planning commissioners and staff spent three years developing the draft comprehensive plan. Ward was the only planning commissioner to write in a letter his objections to a list of action items included in the plan.

The list of action items states the planning commission will study impact fees as an alternative to financing capital projects.

In the draft copy of the plan, planning commissioners suggest the county look at the possibility of county-wide zoning.

Planning commissioner Bob Land emphasized during Monday’s meeting that everything in the draft plan is suggested, not mandatory. All items in the plan are subject to the county commission’s approval, he said.

County commissioner Don Armstrong said he would wait until the public comment period to raise his concerns about countywide zoning.

&uot;I’d have some problems with the zoning issue, but I will withold my comment until the public comment period,&uot; Armstrong said, indicating he was ready to move forward with adoption of the plan.

Currently, about half of the county is zoned, mostly in municipalities.

County commissioner Larry Dillard said he foresees county-wide zoning in the future, but the obstacles to it should not prevent the county from adopting the planning document.

&uot;The fact that we don’t have 100 percent zoning shouldn’t hold us back,&uot; he said.

The plan relies on a relatively new method of land use and planning called place-making, with an emphasis on village centers featuring interconnectivity and walkable neighborhoods. The draft includes plans for 28 village centers throughout the county.

&uot;That’s precisely what this plan promotes,&uot; Land said.

During the development process, planning commissioners staged 20 town hall and public meetings to gather input.

Thomas said that was the main focus of the plan.

&uot;All items are subject to the county commission’s approval, but the focus has been on answering the desires of residents from the town hall meetings,&uot; he said. &uot;It was eye-opening to see what they really wanted. The integrity of the people and the sincerity that they displayed is meaningful.

&uot;It amounts to the old neighborhood thing. The people who lived it would like to see the way it used to be,&uot; Thomas said