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Ready to plan for the future: Proposals received for comprehensive plan

For years, Lafayette County has been dealing with a growing problem … literally.

In 2008, officials made an attempt to tackle the issue of the county’s unprecedented growth by developing a comprehensive plan. However, the county has outgrown that guide and talk of designing or updating the comprehensive plan for the fastest-growing county in the state has run rampant, especially during the most recent political season.

Talk has finally been taken over by action with the county Board of Supervisors deciding last month the time has come to consult professionals about either updating the current plan or designing a new one.

With a population well over 50,000 residents, projections expect the county to be near 70,000 by 2037. The 2008 comprehensive plan projected growth in the county to be at just over 53,000 residents by 2020, which has led many officials and residents to believe short and long-range planning are necessary.

Three requests for proposals have been received and soon a committee will be formed to sort through and select a firm to present to the supervisors.

Two of those firms — A2H, PLLC and Slaughter & Associates — are based in Oxford, while a third firm, Center for Planning Excellence, is located in Baton Rouge. According to documents submitted to county engineer Larry Britt, A2H, in partnership with Clarion Associates, will have a fee proposal of $97,000. Slaughter & Associates’ fee proposal is $60,000 and Center for Planning Excellence propose $327,000.

The committee, which also will work directly with the selected firm, will likely be composed of two supervisors, two planning commission members, county attorney David O’Donnell, Britt and “probably a couple (residents) from the community as well,” board president Jeff Busby said.

Determining which firm to choose likely won’t happen before the end of the year, according to Busby, who feels the current plan is outdated.

“We will give them a copy of the current plan and let them look at each structure and ride each road,” Busby said. “But I feel like they will have to redo the whole thing.”

The ‘Z’ word

Most residents and county officials agree that a new or updated comprehensive plan is necessary, but at the heart of the issue is land-use regulations or zoning.

The bulk of Lafayette County’s growth is in a zone circling the Oxford city limits. By state law, an entire county must be zoned — not just certain areas.

“I feel like, and I know previous boards have felt like, most people within a three-to five-mile radius around Oxford need some zoning,” Busby said. “And in order to do that, you have to zone the whole county. That’s the sticking point.”

Some residents who live further out in the county from Oxford don’t want regulations to determine what they can or cannot do with their property.

One incoming supervisor who campaigned hard for a new comprehensive plan is Kevin Frye, who will represent District 1 when he is sworn in at the end of the month. But he wants the plan to also include implementation, as well as involve a wide range of people in the community.

“We need to start a process that involves a variety of different committees, one to look at economic development, housing and land use, where zoning might be discussed but is not the only option to regulate growth,” Frye said.

He sees that a new comprehensive plan is necessary also for job growth.

“Businesses want some predictability on how the county is going to grow,” Frye said.

He said he also wants to dispel the notion that land-use regulations are an effort to drive up tax revenue.

“There are specific state statutes that say if the county were to adopt land-use regulations, they cannot require a permit to build a farm, shed or barn,” Frye said.

Pros and cons

A comprehensive plan that included land-use regulations also could protect residents from what could be perceived as unsightly eyesores, as well as businesses that could inhibit growth.

County planning commission chairman TJ Ray said he is in favor of a new comprehensive plan simply because the 2008 version is not current. Since it was adopted, leaders have implemented county building code regulations, as well as new subdivision regulations.

“You should normally do one every five years, so yes, it needs to be done,” Ray said.

As a member of the planning commission, Ray has dealt with a wide array of issues when it comes to county growth and believes there are pros and cons to zoning.

“That zoning is on the minds of many folks in the county should surprise no one,” Ray said, noting that as available space in Oxford for development shrinks, “more and more development will inevitably migrate outside the city limits.”

Such land-use regulations could deter a scrap metal business, for example, being placed in a traditional residential area or a homeowner deciding he would like to open a convenience store on a lot next door to his residence.

But Ray is also mindful that zoning is not some magic pill that will cure the ills of growth in the county. Officials still will have to make decisions on specific developmental matters.

“At the end of the day, it will simply be a set of guidelines adopted with the aim of establishing community harmony, administered by citizens who will not be moved to create disharmony.”

THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN PROPOSALS

Three firms have submitted proposals for updating or revising the county’s comprehensive plan. One will be selected by the board of supervisors. Here are the costs as submitted from each firm:

A2H, PLLC & CLARION ASSOCIATES, LLC

• Project Initiation – $12,000

• Community Assessment – $22,000

• Develop Draft Plan – $44,000

• Plan Adoption & Preparation of Implementation Report – $19,000

FEE PROPOSAL: $97,000

SLAUGHTER & ASSOCIATES

• Comprehensive Plan Objectives – $60,000*

* paid in three draws of $20,000 each based on percent complete: 33%, 66% and 100%

CENTER FOR PLANNING EXCELLENCE

• Project Management – $18,000

• Purpose of the Comprehensive Plan, Project Goals, Information Gathering and Focus Areas – $22,000

• Community Outreach and Visioning Plan – $60,000

• Focus Area Studies – $35,000

• Vision Document – $40,000

• Develop Draft Comprehensive Plan – $90,000

• Develop and Adopt Final Comprehensive Plan – $30,000

SUBTOTAL FOR COMPREHENSIVE PLAN – $295,000

EXPENSES:

• Travel, Lodging, M&E – $20,000

• Printing (Documents, Brochures, Maps) – $4,000

• Public Meetings Materials – $8,000

TOTAL FOR COMPREHENSIVE PLAN – $327,000