County releases public survey results for comprehensive plan

Published 4:23 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022

By EMILY SPARACINO | Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Commission heard an update on the first phase of the process to create a new comprehensive plan for the county during a work session on Monday, Jan. 24.

Planning and Community Development Manager Christie Hester, who is serving as co-project manager for the county’s comprehensive plan, presented the results from a public survey Shelby County conducted last year to collect feedback from residents at the beginning of the planning process.

“A citizen-driven plan is an informed plan, which ultimately makes an implementable plan, so we always start with our citizens,” Hester said. “We want to make sure they have the information and the opportunity to participate.”

The county received 2,095 responses and 8,572 open-ended comments from the survey, which closed on Dec. 1.

“We had good responses, and we had strong feedback from those participants,” Hester said. “We would have liked to have had more, but when you look at the geographic distribution, in this day and age, it’s really good that we got the number of open-ended comments that we did and the positive feedback.”

As the sixth fastest-growing county in Alabama, Shelby County has changed in many ways since its comprehensive plan was last updated in 2004.

“In our 2004 plan, it called for more partnerships with our municipalities, so a lot of the partnerships that we’ve developed since then actually came out of our 2004 plan,” Hester said. “The county plan will assist elected officials and county leaders with decision making over the next 15 years. This plan will be a blueprint providing guidance for capital invests, growth and development.”

According to Shelby County Manager Chad Scroggins, the 2004 comprehensive plan kick-started the growth of the county’s park system.

“We’ve used the comprehensive plan and plan map at times to approve different types of zoning requests,” Scroggins said. “It’s important for feedback from the public to hit this plan for us to carry it through, but it also helps us understand what the residents want our budgets to invest in going forward.”

Regarding the public survey, 49 percent of the participants live in incorporated areas of the county, and 51 percent live in unincorporated areas.

Highlights of the survey include the following:

• Top 2 strengths of the county

86 percent – Quality of public schools

80 percent – Quality of parks and open space

• Top 2 quality of life issues in the county

85 percent – Capacity and efficiency of the roadway system

75 percent – Rapid growth and development

• What goods, services or destinations do you leave the county for frequently?

57 percent – Entertainment and event venues

55 percent – Shopping

• What additional amenities are most needed?

74 percent – Shared use paths or greenways

73 percent – Outdoor dining

• Desired new development types

63 percent – Parks, recreational space and amenities

56 percent – Shopping, retail and entertainment venues

• Top 2 challenges to economic growth

59 percent – Capacity of the road network

26 percent – Availability of reliable transportation options

• Desired new residential development types

37 percent – No more residential development

36 percent – Clustered development that preserves open space

• Desired new commercial development types

45 percent – Redevelopment of existing sites

37 percent – creating new or redeveloping existing town centers

• Best ways for the county to retain existing businesses

41 percent – Invest in infrastructure

35 percent Invest in quality-of-life improvements

• What tourist attractions should be prioritized for funding?

82 percent – Oak Mountain State Park

76 percent – New parks and greenspaces

• Desired recreational amenities

63 percent – Improve facilities at existing parks

54 percent – Off-road trails and greenways

• Desired transportation investments if the county were to receive additional funding

82 percent – Reducing traffic congestion

77 percent – Maintenance of county roads and neighborhood streets

• Overall, how do you feel about the future of Shelby County?

41 percent – Shelby County has a bright future.

38 percent – While I generally feel good about the future, county support is needed in some areas.

16 percent – I am concerned about the future. I have seen a mix of positive and negative changes and would like to see more concentrated efforts from the county.

3 percent – I do not know.

2 percent – I have serious concerns and fear that our county is headed in the wrong direction.

Survey participants were also able to place pins on maps wherever they thought development should be focused; additional trails or parks and greenspace are desired; additional sidewalks or pedestrian facilities are desired; additional bicycling infrastructure is desired; and transportation-related issues such as speeding, maintenance, congestion or safety need to be addressed.

Among the parks that participants said they visit most frequently are Oak Mountain, Heardmont Park, Buck Creek, Orr Park, Pelham City Park, Buck Creek, Joe Tucker Park and Beeswax Park.

“A lot of people move to our county because they like to be close to the number one draw, which is 800,000 visitors a year come to a now 11,500-acre park,” Scroggins said of Oak Mountain State Park. “People are drawn to the natural beauty of the county. Outdoor recreation is still one of our largest drivers.”

Responses to a question about “big ideas” for Shelby County included growth and development, addressing traffic issues, multimodal connectivity, school improvements and quality of life.

“As we look forward, we understand that quality of life is just as important as growth,” Hester said. “We really want to focus on quality of life and creating those places that people love, that our youth will want to stay and live in our communities and bring their talents back.”

The Project Team consists of Shelby County Development Services staff members and representatives from the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, which has worked with Pelham, Alabaster, Calera and other cities in the county on their comprehensive plans.

In addition, a 28-person steering committee will provide input, direction and advice to the project team, as well as review the preliminary recommendations.

Steering Committee members have diverse backgrounds and represent different businesses, organizations and geographic areas in the county.

The committee also includes four youth ambassadors.

Regarding the project timeline, Phase 2 will consist of plan development and recommendations (February-June 2022), followed by Phase 3, plan documentation and publication (June-August 2022) and Phase 4, plan finalization and adoption (August-October 2022).

The final plan will go to the Shelby County Planning Commission for adoption and the Shelby County Commission for ratification, Hester said.

To complete Phase 1, the next steps in the process will be to release the full survey results to the public on the project website, Planshelbyal.com, as the RPCGB team drafts an existing conditions and trends report.

The Steering Committee’s second meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 15.

“This is an important plan for us moving forward, and we want to make sure to get it right,” Hester said. “We hope to have this all wrapped up by October.”