The Framework Steering Committee on Wednesday made some final recommendations to the Comprehensive Plan and City Code Update that will be presented to the public on Nov. 6.
In preparation for next month’s public open house, the volunteers on the Framework steering committee made some final recommendations to the proposed master plan that’s been in the works for more than a year.
And its approach was citywide.
“Whatever we’re considering,” said Framework committee member LaShonda Lockett, “we’ve got to keep our community in mind.”
The Nov. 6 open house at the Tuscaloosa River Market will be the public’s first chance to see the city’s first comprehensive master plan that has been in development since summer 2018.
The two three-hour sessions — from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and another from 4:30-7:30 p.m. — will be come-and-go events for the public to see the proposed land use maps and policy recommendations that the Framework master plan volunteers have been guiding.
Attendees are encouraged to offer input and additional suggestions that will be considered for the final Comprehensive Plan and City Code Update, which will go before the City Council for consideration.
But even then, there were concerns that all these months of work will be cast aside by the city’s elected leaders.
In April 2018, the City Council hired Columbus, Ohio-based consultants “planning NEXT” for $731,000 to oversee the city’s first comprehensive master plan and code updates for all of Tuscaloosa.
However, there is no guarantee that these recommendations, once complete, will be fully realized.
“They’re not bound,” said Framework steering committee member Steven Rumsey, “but when volunteers and citizens spent countless hundreds of hours doing what they asked us to do ... then flippantly vote against it, it makes us wonder what policies are important.
“How do we get a City Council to vote on their own policies?”
Rumsey’s frustrations stem from his years of service on the Planning and Zoning Commission, during which he’s seen multiple recommendations that it has put forth get shot down or outright ignored once they reach the City Council.
But the short answer, said planning NEXT principal Jaime Greene, is that there is no way to ensure these recommendations become policy.
Rather, the goal of the steering committee is to make the best recommendations possible and hope the city leaders agree.
“When it comes to human nature,” Greene said, “there are no guarantees.”
Recommendations, though, were in abundance on Wednesday during the steering committee’s monthly meeting.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper and steering committee member Nelson Brooke repeatedly suggested that more protections for the river, as well as incentives for using it, be included.
“To me, that seems like a big void for people in the community as well as visitors who come to Tuscaloosa who want to do something besides just look at it,” Brooke said.
There also was a push for neighborhood protections, both from encroaching businesses and new residents.
Steering committee member and west Tuscaloosa resident Serena Fortenberry suggested adding guidelines to protect existing neighborhoods through material and building standards like the plan currently includes for historic districts.
She also said that allowing industrial-based businesses alongside retail developments or neighborhoods is less than ideal.
“That’s actually inappropriate for places that are in the middle of the city,” Fortenberry said of the proposed land use plan’s allowance for light industrial in certain commercial areas of Tuscaloosa.
This led to an explanation of how the land use plan’s recommendations aren’t concrete. Rather, zoning and code updates would be needed to implement it and, for some areas, multiple zonings would apply.
It’s within these, the consultants said, that permissive uses would be more clearly defined.
And others, like steering committee member Stepfon “Step” Lewis, wanted to see commitments to aid small and beginning businesses beyond what is already included in the proposal.
The comprehensive plan’s most recent draft has suggestions for entrepreneur education and encouragement programs, ground floor instructional programs for how to start a business, business planning assistance programs, customer connection and networking programs to help connect entrepreneurs with potential customers and accelerator programs and incubators to support successful launches, among other recommendations.
Lewis, though, said he wants to ensure that benefits local business owners and not outside, corporate interests.
“Whatever you focus on is what you are,” Lewis said. “I’m more interested in what we can create here within to make entrepreneurs want to start businesses here.”
Reach Jason Morton at email@example.com or 205-722-0200.