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Anniston starts work on comprehensive plan

Philip Walker describes Anniston the way a developer describes a lovely but old house: “good bones.”

“You’ve got a nice, walkable scale for your downtown, and great architecture,” said Walker, the principal planner for the Walker Collaborative, the Nashville-based consulting firm the Anniston City Council has hired to develop a comprehensive plan for the city.

Walker and city leaders held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall on McClellan Boulevard to announce that the comprehensive planning process is beginning — and to explain exactly what a comprehensive plan is. It’s not an easy idea to convey.

“I would say it’s a blueprint for the future growth of your community,” Walker said. 

The City Council voted 5-0 earlier this month to spend $150,000 on a comprehensive plan, a long-term planning document for a city that is typically drafted over months of consultation with planning experts and groups of local residents. 

State law requires cities of Anniston’s size and larger to create a “municipal plan,” though the law has no real mechanism for enforcement. State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, last year proposed a bill that would withhold some state funds from cities that didn’t plan. COVID-19 ended the legislative session before the bill had a chance to pass, but city leaders said they were committed to pursuing a plan.

“It will help us decide what we want our city to look like 20 years from now. It will help us with economic development. It will help us with quality of life,” Mayor Jack Draper said at Tuesday’s press conference. 

Asked when average Annistonians will first see signs of the planning process, Walker said the company will soon conduct a survey of residents, probably online. Later there will be focus groups and a charrette, a multi-day meeting where local residents will be able to brainstorm about goals for the city.

The process will likely take 8-10 months, Walker said. He said it’s likely the city will be able to do a charette face-to-face later this year, though he said cities have done them virtually during the pandemic.

Urban planners sometimes describe comprehensive plans as documents that guide a city’s growth — but if current census estimates are correct, Anniston isn’t growing. Walker said he’s aware of that, and it’s one reason an economist will work with the planners, looking for ways to develop the city economically.

“Looking around, you need more bodies here.” Walker said. “People spending money, people with jobs.”

Draper agreed.

“I think in addition we need to work on keeping our citizens here,” Draper said. “We need to do a better job of creating a city where young people will want to stay.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.