Hed: New Albany pursues homegrown comprehensive plan
By Jane Hill
NEW ALBANY – Nobody knows better what a city needs than the people who live there.
That is the principle New Albany city officials and residents are following as they form a comprehensive planning committee to map out a future of growth and development for the next 25 years.
For the next year, 10 citizen committees will gather information and develop ideas on the direction the city should take. The committees are being aided by Dr. Lawrence Zuercher, a professional landscape architect and city planner from Starkville who also teaches at Mississippi State University.
Like the volunteers who will serve on the various committees, Zuercher is donating his time and expertise to pilot the project to completion, he said.
“It is much easier to come up with the money to pay a consultant than to take the time and effort to do it yourself. Some people don’t believe that, but it’s true,” Zuercher said. “I have told them that I am very proud of them for wanting to do it themselves.”
New Albany Mayor Tom Cooper said the idea for a comprehensive planning committee came as the result of a thesis project one of Zuercher’s students, a New Albany native, was working on at MSU.
In his research, the student discovered that the city did not have any of the planning documentation normally used by a city to define and enforce its zoning ordinances.
The student put city officials in touch with Zuercher, and the idea for a citizen-driven comprehensive plan was hatched.
Building a team
Committee members had a kickoff luncheon Friday, and organizers were pleased with the interest shown, said Betty King, chairperson of the comprehensive planning oversight committee.
The committees include: oversight, New Albany goals, population and demographics, the streets and thoroughfares, community facilities, community economics, housing survey, zoning and subdivision development, utilities and drainage, and signage and lighting.
King said committee chairmen could be contacting numerous city residents in the coming weeks, asking that they give some of their time and talents to working on the study.
Cooper said the process will take about a year to complete and added that city officials have committed themselves to looking closely at all parts of the comprehensive plan and adopting as much as possible.
“We want our people to tell us where we ought to be in 25 years,” Cooper said.
Zuercher said the comprehensive plan will include a land use plan, an open spaces plan and a utility and infrastructure plan, as well as other plans. With those as a foundation, the city can more easily plan its growth and development and enforce its zoning ordinances.
Setting up house
A local business owner has donated a vacant downtown New Albany store for members of the committee to use as a headquarters and to give New Albany residents access to all the information being gathered by the committees.
Because residents will be working up the plan, Zuercher said it would have a better chance of being implemented than a plan developed by an outside consultant and handed to the city for adoption.
Cooper said the committees will conduct an open house at the newly refurbished storefront near City Hall on May 15. Two days prior to the open house, committee members will get together to refurbish and repaint the interior and exterior of the building, Zuercher said.
“We thought it important to have a place, not imposing like City Hall, where people can come and have a cup of coffee and look at the material being gathered,” he said. “We want every person in the community to have input into this plan.”