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Decatur City Commission approves agreements for racial equity action plan, downtown master plan

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Decatur City Commission approves agreements for racial equity action plan, downtown master plan

FILE PHOTO: The Decatur City Commission met on Monday, June 6, at City Hall to discuss items including the racial equity plan and the downtown master plan. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission, at its June 6 meeting, approved an agreement with The Common Good Agency to develop a racial equity action plan.

The total cost of the project is about $283,000. Initial funds of $40,000 are allocated in the current fiscal year 2021-2022 budget, and the balance will be funded over the next two fiscal years, Communications Manager Renae Madison said. She is also one of the co-leaders of the employee equity and inclusion team, along with Police Chief Scott Richards.

The plan is an action item in the city’s 2020 strategic plan.

“This plan will be developed in partnership with the employee equity and inclusion team and will engage all city employees in order to help the city operationalize racial equity,” Madison said. “The plan will support current and future racial equity goals and objectives and support initiatives outlined in the 2020 Strategic Plan, including creating a Decatur-specific racial equity tool that will be to prioritize equity in policy setting, programming and decision-making, which is very important in order for us to move this work forward.”

The planning process is going to be extensive and will heavily engage the city’s employees, Madison added.

“The process will include an organizational analysis assessing departmental activities, policies, and
procedures, stakeholder listening sessions, design of metrics and an evaluation framework to measure our progress, development of two frameworks for advancing racial equity across the city — one on decision-making and one on evaluating equity — a design of a 6-month racial equity professional development series for all city staff, and the development of a racial equity action plan,” Madison said. “CGA will also provide post engagement support for two years to ensure implementation.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said it takes courage for people to share their feelings on a platform like that.

“We’re going to take a deep look within ourselves, and it’s going to be painful, but we’re going to provide safe spaces for people to do that,” Powers said. “I think that’s really, really important because not everyone is free to make those comments, right, because you have to talk about those things. This is important. This is something that will define our work as well, so I’m glad to see this.”

He added he is excited to get started on the racial equity plan.

“All the other stuff doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have that [equity] component, because for so long it’s [been] missing. It’s missing in boardrooms, it’s missing in C suites, it’s missing,” Powers said. “That equity does not need to be missing here.”

In other business, the city commission also approved a project budget of $410,000 and an agreement with MKSK, Inc., for planning services related to the downtown master plan. The agreement amount is $392,500.

“The Decatur Downtown Master Plan will build upon themes of the 2020 Strategic Plan, and with input from all stakeholders develop a strategic implementation plan where downtown is the focal point and will have a guide for years to come,” said Angela Threadgill, planning and economic development director.

Threadgill also noted some goals of the plan, which include:

— Supporting economic growth while addressing quality of life issues such as safety, noise, and the unhoused population;

— Creating visually aesthetic placemaking to enhance the downtown historic architectural character and its unique identity;

— Balancing land use patterns with human-centered design; and

— Promoting transportation enhancements and safety to that connect downtown, the residential neighborhoods and Agnes Scott College.

MKSK will work with Hummingbird, a community engagement consulting firm.

“They are going to bring forward a public engagement process that will include a project website, one-on-one interviews with our stakeholders, focus group roundtables with those stakeholders, online and analog engagement, storefront displays, walking/bike tours, kiosks at existing events, do-it-yourself meetings-in-a-box…and then youth-specific activities,” Threadgill said.

MKSK will also work with Gray and Pape, who will provide cultural heritage management services, which include a downtown historic resources survey, and provide recommendations on how the city can include those cultural resources and heritage into the city’s implementation plan. The team also includes White and Smith, who will work with the community to recommend amendments to the unified development ordinance to align the outcomes of the downtown master plan and the UDO, Threadgill added.

The project is expected to last 10 months and be completed by April 2023. The city and the Downtown Development Authority will plan to implement the master plan projects in the fiscal year 2023-2024 proposed budget.

During public comment at the meeting, some residents raised concerns about the scope of work of the project and the need to address quality of life issues in the downtown master plan.

Kathie Gannon, a member of the Downtown Decatur Neighbors Association, said the group was formed in 2014 to address the quality of life issues that are unique to downtown residents

“We’ve been advocating from the beginning for a downtown master plan because we saw that as a major opportunity to come together with city government, with residents, commercial developers, businesses to work to create ways to address quality of life issues as well as economic development, housing, and all those other elements that make for a viable and sustainable downtown area,” Gannon said.

Gannon said she, and other downtown neighbors, have not seen in the proposal how the city will address the residential needs for downtown amenities and quality of life improvements.

“We have asked that a downtown planning process be used to identify and provide essential, desirable kinds of amenities for the residential component of our mixed-use developments in the commercial downtown district. Quality of life issues are at the heart of downtown livability,” Gannon said.

She added that MKSK defined streets, walks, trails, parks and greenspace as the backbone of quality of life in their proposal, but the downtown residents think there’s more to quality of life than that.

“To that end, we are asking for assurance that the engagement process that’s included in this master plan have an opportunity to balance the interests of the primary users of downtown in addition to those of the very broad stakeholders group,” Gannon said.

She added that many “part-time users” of downtown — those who recreate, work, eat and shop in the city — will want to provide feedback as well.

“Our challenge is to help you and them and all of us understand that they need to provide as much or more engagement with the full-time users,” Gannon said. “We’re asking for reassurance that our quality of life issues, our livability needs will receive that attention. The first step is to recognize us as a neighborhood.”

“We want to build on what makes Decatur unique and help make it better,” Gannon added. “It’s where we all live.”

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