County keeps sight on planning

Published 6:00 am Sunday, January 31, 2016

Over the last several years, talk of zoning and land usage in Lafayette County has garnered most of the headlines when it comes to updating comprehensive plans, but there are other key factors in the process of updating a comprehensive plan that are just as important to a community.

Factors that have been talked about, but very little progress has been made on, include the need for improved transportation and infrastructure and county facility services. Those items must be examined, per state law, when updating a comprehensive plan.

Also, comprehensive planning guides building development codes and rules, which is ongoing in both Oxford and Lafayette County.

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While the city of Oxford has focused intensely on its Vision 2037 comprehensive plan, county officials have decided the comprehensive plan that was adopted in 2008 is in need of updating and the Board of Supervisors currently is in the midst of deciding on which of two firms to hire to do the job. That decision between Slaughter & Associates and A2H & Clarion could come during Monday morning’s 8 a.m. supervisors meeting.

But the county board of supervisors is not alone in updating a comprehensive plan.

Just this week the town of Abbeville announced it too is seeking input from the community on its comprehensive plan. Its Board of Aldermen will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 18 at town hall to allow residents the opportunity to voice an opinion on the future of their community. Abbeville officials have prepared a comprehensive plan, which “contains certain recommendations regarding guiding and regulating future growth and development of the town.”

Among the recommendations within the plan is the implementation of zoning, building codes and a code enforcement plan. Officials would like to give “citizens and property owners the opportunity to participate and offer input regarding prioritizing action steps for the future of the town,” according to a news release.

While codes and zoning are hot topics, infrastructure and transportation needs are just as important when it comes to comprehensive plans. Officials must also find ways to work together.

That cooperation has been evident in the West Oxford Loop extended project to connect College Hill Road.

While 80 percent of the proposed road is in the county, the city offered to pay half of the expenses to extend the road that is estimated to cost about $7 million. The county agreed to partner with the city to cover the other half of the costs.

While talks of extending the road went on for years, and city officials dubbed the proposed extension the Toby Tubby Parkway, nothing had been done other than an environmental study back in 2005. But when FNC Park was built, traffic heading to the park doubled, as Oxford’s population also increased by 26 percent since 2005.

City Public Works Director Bart Robinson said another environmental study is being performed which will determine the possible impact to the environment where the new road would be constructed.

“We hope to get that report back around February,” Robinson said in November. “After that, we can contact property owners and start land acquisition.”

Robinson estimated that if the report is back in February, construction on the road could begin this summer.

“Obviously, we could end up in some big battle over property acquisition, but barring that, we can be ready by the summer to start on construction,” Robinson said.

Across town, another future road will connect folks living in the northeast section of Oxford and Lafayette County to University Avenue and Highway 6. Sisk Avenue is planned to be extended east, through the electric power lines and connect with either University Avenue or Highway 6.

Robinson said the city is working the Mississippi Department of Transportation to come up with a solution on how to connect the road to either Sisk or University and how the to connect all three.

“MDOT may not necessarily dictate that University Avenue must connect to the new road,” Robinson said. “We’re looking at several options — a roundabout, a split or a frontage road. We’ve sent MDOT a dozen different ideas and they sent back more than a dozen. The geometry, because of the tight space and the requirements that they have on the spacing and stacking distance, is making it very difficult.”

Robinson said while most of the Sisk extension design is “straight forward,” the two intersections of where the extension begins and ends is a bit of a sticking point.

“Once we get something MDOT can live with then we can move forward,” he said.

The city and county packaged the two roads together that have a combined cost of about $14 million. The city raised the ad valorem tax by 1 mill in 2015 and will raise it 2 mills this year to help cover the cost of the bond payment for the roads. The supervisors have committed to the roads but have not yet voted on how they would be paying for them. The Mississippi Legislature voted to give Lafayette County $3 million toward the construction of West Oxford Loop.

Facilities plans are also important but have not generated as much interest as the issue or land use.

District 1 Supervisor Kevin Frye recently told his fellow board of supervisors of grants available that could be used for a possible multipurpose building and proposed more study should be implemented into acquiring such grants.

“We have a nice piece of property on County Road 406 where the board planned as a buffer zone with Rolling Wood subdivision,” Frye said during a recent meeting. He said the deadline to apply for the grant is March 10.

“I’m hoping a multipurpose building will be included in the comprehensive plan,” Frye said.

The grant proposal is expected to be presented during a Board of Supervisors meeting in February.

Alyssa Schnugg, city editor, contributed to this story.