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Decatur seeks comments on draft of its Comprehensive Plan

Decatur slideshow

Decatur seeks comments on draft of its Comprehensive Plan


The city of Decatur excels at two things: planning and festivals.

Festivals are decidedly more fun, but it helps if they’re supported by thoughtfully-planned communities.

Currently, the city is in the midst of updating its state-mandated Comprehensive Plan, which is about the physical infrastructure of the city. There’s a draft that’s available for public comment. To read it and offer your thoughts, click here.

Decaturish read through the document, which is as much a progress report as it is a guiding vision for the city. The plan uses information gleaned from surveys and public input meetings.

Here are the most surprising (or maybe not so-surprising in some cases) takeaways from the Comprehensive Plan Draft.

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– Residents say traffic is bad, but the city says its not as bad as they think it is. 

While many of the survey questions elicited a mixed response, 70 percent of residents said traffic or parking is a barrier to patronizing businesses in downtown Decatur. That’s at odds with the city’s findings that the perception of traffic does not match reality.

“Responses from the Comprehensive Plan survey and the public input sessions indicated residents’ concerns for increasing traffic,” the Comprehensive Plan draft says. “However, in comparing traffic volumes to those from five and twenty years ago, and despite some increases since along certain corridors, there’s a notable distinction between actual traffic counts and the perception of congestion.”

The draft plan includes this graphic showing traffic trends over a five and 20 year period.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The city says traffic along Scott Boulevard, one of the city’s most notoriously busy roads, decreased by 23 percent over a five year period. But traffic along College Avenue increased by 35 percent over the same timeline. However, taking the longer 20-year view, College Avenue traffic has decreased by 9 percent and Scott Boulevard has only increased by 3 percent.

The city’s responses to traffic concerns, guided by resident input, include increasing the use of transit, continuing making the city bicycle and pedestrian friendly and continuing to “study mobility and connectivity.”

 Decatur’s population has increased, but it’s not at an all-time high. Yet. 

The estimated population for the city of Decatur for 2015 was 21,957, the highest it’s been since it peaked at 22,026 residents in in the 1960s. The population shift away from cities caused the city’s population to decline by 22 percent between 1960 and 1990, but then the population started climbing again. The city’s population is expected to reach 1960s levels by 2020.

“Between 2010 and 2014, the adolescent cohort and the cohort of seniors 65 and older increased, while the cohort of working aged adults declined. The growth of the senior cohort mimics national trends, while the growth of the adolescent cohort is unique to the City and is a direct result of Decatur’s successful school system,” the Comprehensive Plan says.

– Decatur’s previous attempt to increase housing diversity failed.

The city of Decatur adopted an “inclusionary housing ordinance” in 1998 that gave multi-family housing units a density bonus for creating more affordable units. Density could be increased by 20 percent if 75 percent of the additional units were affordable.

“Since the ordinance became effective, only two for-purchase and one for-rental developments have voluntarily taken advantage of the density bonus, creating less than 50 affordable lifecycle dwelling units. This is a less than ideal result in a city that is committed to the creation of affordable housing options,” the Comprehensive Plan says.

 Meanwhile, the cost of housing in the city has skyrocketed. 

The city’s median home value is $350,000 to $540,000,  depending on the source. The city says 91 percent of its housing is single family homes. One real estate source, Zillow, says that between 2000 and 2014, average home values increased by a whopping 69 percent. According to the Comprehensive Plan, 41 percent of Decatur households make more than $100,000 a year.

“The median household income in Decatur has risen 63 percent since 2000 and is projected to rise to nearly $80,000 by 2020,” the Comprehensive Plan says. “Additionally, the moderate or middle income cohort is shrinking. In 2000, 61 percent of households were considered of moderate income, while in 2014 only 35 percent were considered to have a moderate income. The City is proactively trying to address this ‘missing middle income’ by providing a variety of housing options to accommodate this income level.”

– Most of the city’s residents don’t work in the city. 

The Comprehensive Plan says only 884 of Decatur’s residents work within the city limits. About 8,590 residents commute out of the city for work while 13,809 people commute into Decatur for work.

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