The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 12, 2012

City to seek public input on roadmap

By Adam Smith

— It’s been 10 years since the city of Athens updated its land development plan, but later this year city leaders will again look toward the future.

During the first week of December, a public workshop will be held to gather input from city residents prior to adopting a new roadmap for the city.

“The community, led by a facilitator, will develop a vision of what they want to see Athens looking like 10 to 20 years from now,” said City Planner Mac Martin. “These workshops will be used to extract as much information as possible from the general public.”

As the workshops progress, the facilitator will have illustrations depicting what residents see as the city’s future look. Martin said the “visioning workshops” will play a crucial role in determining the city’s future.

“When I author a future land-use and development plan, I want a plan that is well-informed and one that has sufficient community input and buy-in,” he said. “It should reflect the community’s desires for the future of our city. A plan without that input doesn’t capture the vision of the community and collects dust on the shelf.”

Martin said there were some hurt feelings during the planning process for the 2002-2003 land-use plan because county residents were not included as part of the dialogue. He pointed out, however, that city services and jurisdiction ends at the city limits.

“The people who were the most upset were in unincorporated Limestone County,” he said. “We don’t have a planning or police presence that extends beyond those limits, and I don’t want people to be upset for no reason.”

The land-use plan will serve as a guide to how the city will develop over the next decade or more, but will also serve as the basis for any modifications to the city’s zoning ordinance. Martin said if there are parts of the current ordinance residents find deficient, their comments would be taken into consideration at the workshop.

“In many (cities), planning and having it as an open process can seem messy and scary, but if we’re able to extract information from the community, we can achieve the goals the citizens wish to see achieved over the next 20 years,” he said. “It gives us something we can point to, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Athens’ goal of updating its plan comes nearly a year and a half after Huntsville released its ambitious plans for annexed portions of Limestone County. In an effort to stave off encroachment from Huntsville and Madison, the City Council last month approved a plan to annex 107 acres near the intersection of U.S. 72 and Mooresville Road.

Fifty-eight acres of the property was zoned as residential, while property that fronts U.S. 72 east was zoned as B-3, or highway business district.