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Decatur strategic plan heading toward final approval in September

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Decatur strategic plan heading toward final approval in September

Decatur City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA— The Decatur strategic plan is heading toward final approval next month. The city will hold public hearings, one on Sept. 14 with the Planning Commission and the other on Sept. 27 with the City Commission.

The strategic plan is the document the city will use as the basis for how Decatur sees and responds to challenges and opportunities. The document serves as the city’s guide for planning its priorities, policies and projects. It is updated every 10 years. During this process, the city is also updating its comprehensive plan and livable centers initiative, according to the city’s strategic plan website.

The consultants from TSW and Angela Threadgill, planning and economic development director for Decatur, presented the draft strategic plan to the City Commission on Monday, Aug. 16. The consultants said that during the public participation process, there was generally strong support for all the action items in the strategic plan, but many people wanted more ambitious goals for clean energy targets and equity.

The strategic plan recommendations are broken up into six topics, with equity and racial justice being the overarching theme. Climate change is another broader topic that came out of the public participation process.

“We really heard that from the public that you can’t talk about mobility without thinking about affordable housing, and you can’t talk about affordable housing without thinking about equity. So all of these are sort of interconnected,” said Woody Giles of TSW, the consultants working with the on the strategic plan. 

Sarah McColley, who also works with TSW, added that those working on the strategic plan evaluated all the action items in the plan through the lens of equity and racial justice.

“I really feel that the most important one that we’re recommending is the community-directed reparations task force,” McColley said. “I think that in a time where many municipalities aren’t doing this type of thing, it really just shows a commitment for the city to work on that. I think you all have a great case study in the Affordable Housing Task Force.”

The plan also provides recommendations for creating equity tools and scorecards that can be used to evaluate projects, retaining and recruiting diverse businesses, and acknowledging and addressing history as well as continuing conversations.

“One other thing we’ve noticed through this process that could be helpful for that implementation is a separate tool from the plan that is guided by the plan that’ll help [the city] evaluate capital projects and private projects based on these equity and climate action lenses,” McColley said.

When evaluating private developments, the city could use the scorecard to rank the projects and have conversations with developers about how they can better advance the goals of the strategic plan, she added.

“That can also be a good transparency tool for the public to see they may not hit this one specific idea that someone wants, but they are hitting all of these other qualifications with their projects,” McColley said. “We’re looking at this as kind of taking the overarching ideas of the strategic plan and allowing [the city] to have those further conversations.”

The other broader topic in the strategic plan is climate action.

“Number one thing we heard from the community was establishing these clean energy targets,” Giles said. 

He added that there are not specific percentages, targets or dates in the plan as the city is already working on that.

“We’re also talking about transparency. Just being clear about all the sustainability efforts the city already has and how progress is being made toward goals like the clean energy target,” Giles said.

There is also an action item related to the tree canopy goal, which does not have a one-to-one relationship with the changes being made to the city’s tree ordinance. Although that will be part of the conversation as the city looks at that goal going forward, Giles said.

The third topic in the strategic plan revolves around civic trust and making sure the city is continually building and maintaining that trust, as well as instilling a sense of civic responsibility on the part of constituents.

“I think one of the more significant recommendations in this section is creating a public information process,” McColley said. “Just making sure everything is kind of centralized with consistent messaging. It would be focused more around a user-friendly and centralized website.”

Another item to come out of the civic trust recommendations was community-nominated budget items that people can vote on and also advance the plan, but there’s a budget tied to these smaller projects that could make an impact on a smaller neighborhood, McColley said.

Affordable housing is also in the strategic plan and the consultants are recommending that the city implement and make official most of the Affordable Housing Task Force report recommendations like funding, partnerships, staff, education, development and preservation, Giles said. 

“There are other both policy guidance and a couple of specific ideas that the strategic plan adds to that around increasing the variety of housing options that are available, focus on permanent affordability, so making sure where units are built they’re in place for a very long time, and just understanding the relationship between your utility bill and cost of parking and other things to housing costs,” he added. 

The strategic plan looks at mobility as well and implementing that community transportation plan, which includes a comprehensive look at the city’s transportation network.

“A lot of the recommendations we have kind of involve around planning for those 10-minute neighborhoods, that kind of mentality of having things within a walkable distance,” McColley said.

Giles further explained that the 10-minute neighborhood is the idea that within 10 minutes of someone’s home they can find a school, places to eat and places to shop and find necessities.

Recommendations for mobility additionally include implementing other plans, like the path plan, and looking at parking management.

The final topic in the strategic plan is economic growth, which is more focused citywide rather than just the downtown area. Giles said the consensus from the public was that Decatur has a great brand and the city should build on that. The plan looks at how the city can support and grow its local businesses rather than just focusing on recruitment, Giles said

“But of course we need to recruit too and think about new businesses, especially new jobs, high-paying jobs, bringing those into the city,” Giles said. 

Next, the strategic plan will be submitted to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Atlanta Regional Commission for approval ahead of the public hearings.

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