Regional planners get ready to ask residents how they want to improve their communities
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jun 10, 2013 | 2336 views |  0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission wants a clearer picture of how residents hope to solve their communities’ problems.

The second phase of the commission’s ambitious Clear Plan 2030 project gets under way this week as planners prepare to ask residents in the 10-county area served by the commission how they want to deal with obstacles preventing their home communities from being more livable.

Earlier this year, residents gathered in local meetings to tell researchers what they thought those obstacles were.

“We’re going through all the data we collected and seeing if we can come up with the best vision for the region,” said Johnnie Aycock, a consultant with the project with the Washington-based group Partners for Livable Communities. Aycock was at his Washington office Monday drafting a plan for the region’s future using information collected earlier this year from residents through surveys and community conversation meetings.

“The next step is to go back and see if we captured the essence of what they said, and what we heard,” Aycock said.

Clear Plan 2030, a project funded by a grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to address residents’ views on what needs to be done about transportation, education, housing and civic engagement in their communities. Robin Caler, a principal planner with the Development Commission, said the first phase of the project, which wrapped up in May, focused on identifying problems residents had with where they live.

“They tended to be very vague, and broad,” Caler said. “People were concerned about education, they wanted to improve job outlook. They were great at identifying the problems without really offering suggestions.”

From the information gathered earlier this year, planners will work on developing suggestions and ideas to present to residents as they go back to each of the counties starting later this month. The information from these meetings will find its way into a draft plan scheduled to be completed by November, Caler said.

Jennifer Maddox, chairwoman for the Community Engagement Livability Resource Team of Clear Plan 2030, said three points of discussion came up again and again among residents of the 10 counties during the first phase of conversations. Residents liked the rural character of where they lived, they liked the abundance of natural resources in the area, and they wanted more jobs closer to home.

“They expressed this initially as industry, but I think that may not be our goal,” Maddox said. “How do you bring in industry without changing the rural feel of these communities? The question we want to ask is how do you bring in more jobs without destroying the area near and dear to you.”

Caler said the second phase of conversations will use the local focus of the first phase to address how the entire area can work together.

“We heard a lot of people say in rural areas, we want to bring a hotel to the area,” Caler said.

“Do you want to be Oxford or do you maybe want a bed and breakfast, something that keeps the rural character of the community?”

Caler said it’s the hope that residents will be able to look outside of just their community to see what changes and strategies will have the biggest effect on the region.

The second phase of the community conversations begins June 27 in Cleburne County and runs through August. Calhoun County will host a conversation July 11 at 6 p.m. at the Chamber of Commerce.

“This is an opportunity to really have input,” Maddox said. “If you’re marginally interested in what’s going on in your community, I’d strongly encourage them to come because we’re listening and this is a chance to have a say on the future of their community.”

Residents who want to learn more about the project can visit the website, clearplan2030.org.

Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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