Work will continue into the new year to finalize Birmingham’s Comprehensive Plan, designed to outline the city’s growth for the next two decades.
While the Birmingham Planning Commission in October finally adopted the Comprehensive Plan – an exhaustive 15-chapter document available online that addresses issues such as transportation, economic development, housing and land use — there is still one aspect of the plan that needs to be adopted before the plan is completed.
The planning commission will meet Feb. 5 to discuss and possibly adopt the Future Land Use Plan, a section of the Comprehensive Plan that specifically addresses proposed uses and zoning for land throughout the city. That meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. in the council chambers.
The Comprehensive Plan was created using input from people who live, work and own businesses in the city. Dozens of public hearings, open houses and small group work sessions were held to cull these ideas for future growth. All of the comments, ideas, visions and challenges identified by the 2,300 people who participated were then distilled into the comprehensive plan. The document was completed in March after nearly two years of work done by a team of planning firms led by Goody Clancy of Boston.
The purpose of the plan is to “set out a 20-year policy and strategic framework for the City of Birmingham,” according to the plan website. “Guided by an overall vision that embodies the unique personality, culture and heritage of our community, the planning process will establish a set of goals, policies, strategies and implementation actions to achieve the plan’s vision for Birmingham’s future. … It’s our opportunity to set a new course for Birmingham in the 21st century.”
Planners see the plan as “both a process and a document” which contains “three fundamental parts:
- A consensus vision of the future: what do we want our shared destiny to be?
- A strategy to pursue the vision: how do we get there?
- An action plan to achieve the vision: how do we get started?”
To date there are 79 pages of comments from those participants who hoped that their particular vision for the city would be incorporated into the comprehensive plan. The comments — left on the plan website, emailed to planners or written at local libraries — range from broad to specific in the issues and challenges that need to be addressed to move Birmingham forward.
Said one commenter at a library regarding the South East Lake neighborhood: “I like the emphasis on urban agriculture and improved public transit, especially the emphasis on vacant properties, as that is a prevalent issue in our neighborhood — too many vacant and rundown houses in the area. The only concerns I have is that the great ideas will not be implemented in my area [South East Lake]. There are revitalization efforts, but the neighborhood cannot do it alone.”
Many of the commenters addressed transportation: “I would like to offer my support for the Birmingham Comprehensive Plan. In particular, I am excited about Chapter 12 which promotes the increased design and support of a multi-modal transportation system for the city,” one said.
Others expressed concerns and posed questions about the implementation of the ambitious plan: “Can the consultants provide tangible goals and/or benchmarks that can be measured to determine how much progress is being made in implementing the Comprehensive Plan (projected population growth, number of jobs created)?”
Other comments addressed long-term concerns in Birmingham. “The population in Birmingham has declined by over 30,000 people in the last decade and the city of Mobile is growing by leaps and bounds. If current trends continue Birmingham will not be the largest city in Alabama.
“Birmingham is a very poor city and the idea of increasing the sales tax — which is the most regressive tax for establishing user fees — will be difficult to initiate.
The comprehensive plan reads more like a wish list and it does not identify specific sources of funding. Does the Comprehensive Plan address potential funding sources? Is there a timeline for implementation? Are the issues of racism and discrimination addressed?”
Planners responded, “The Plan discusses in many locations the need for additional funding and particularly the need to attract the attention of national funders for revitalization activities. The implementation matrix in Chapter 15 includes potential sources of funding for recommended actions, as well as a general implementation timeline.
“The review of trends and conditions in Chapter 3 discusses the impact of historic racial discrimination on land use, housing and infrastructure conditions, education and job access, and wealth creation, as well as current disparities in education, employment, and income. … Chapter 10 includes recommendations on greater assistance and coordination for minority, woman-owned, and disadvantaged businesses through a ‘minority business accelerator’ program to build capacity to successfully bid on corporate and government procurement contracts, as well as assistance for micro‐businesses.”
City of Birmingham Chief Planner Tom Magee said every comment collected during the Comprehensive Plan commenting period was reviewed by the planning commission and will become a part of the plan. According to the summary, the plan will be used in capital improvement planning to guide planning and zoning groups on land use decisions.
Where the Comprehensive Plan is a road map of sorts for the city’s future, the future land use plan is an actual set of 24 maps — one citywide and 23 community maps from Airport Hills to Woodlawn. Like the Comprehensive Plan, the Future Land Use plan is not law, but will serve to advise city officials on development decisions down the road.
Magee, chief planner for Birmingham, said that there were some questions and concerns raised by residents during a public hearing in November regarding the future land use plan.
“We heard from a few property owners who had issues with some of the areas on the maps,” Magee said. “Some property owners felt that their land zoning was not categorized correctly.”
Magee pointed out that the proposed zoning in the future land use plan is just that – proposed use. He said any zoning in place now for property will remain and any changes would have to be made with a rezoning handled by the planning commission.
The concerns and comments noted during the public hearing were used to make changes to the future land use plan. Maps in some of the communities in question have been updated. Comments will continue to be accepted on the land use plan through Jan. 27.
Once the future land use plan is adopted, Magee said he hopes to move forward with presenting the entire Comprehensive Plan to the City Council through a series of work sessions. Work to set up those work sessions was hampered recently when City Council President Maxine Parker died and the council had to elect a new leader, City Councilman Jonathan Austin.
The City Council does not have to adopt the Comprehensive Plan, Magee said. But the body can vote to endorse it – an action that shows overall support for the city’s first comprehensive plan since 1961.“[The Council] needs to be a part of this process,” he said.
But work on the plan will not stop with the endorsement of the City Council. Magee said the city will spend another three to five years working on more localized “framework plans” that map growth and development for key areas of the city. The smaller, localized plans, once completed, will be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan.
These framework plans are mini-versions of the comprehensive plan that “take a closer look at issues, growth and development in specific areas,” Magee said. Already, the city and the Birmingham Regional Planning Commission have started working on framework plans for the Titusville community and the western area, which includes Five Points West, West End and Smithfield.
Officials anticipate identifying stakeholders within the Titusville and western area in January to begin the discussions for those framework plans. The work on framework plans will trigger another round of public involvement with meetings and public forums to be held to discuss issues in those communities. Public involvement for these plans could begin in early winter, but Magee did not have any dates set for meetings.
Magee said the framework plans will be done for many of the communities throughout the city.
Beyond working on the more localized plans, Magee said an implementation committee of about 20 people will be set up and charged with championing the plan to both government and private sector business people for implementation.
“The plan has to be implemented,” he said. “And it will take both sides — government and the private citizens — working together to make this happen.”
Copies of the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use plan can be viewed at libraries in Avondale, Central, Eastwood, East Ensley, East Lake, Five Points West, North Birmingham, Springville Road and West End, as well as in the city planning offices on the fifth floor of City Hall and online.