Photo: City of Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford stands by the Coosa River, across from City Hall. Ford spoke on his intentions to encourage riverfront development in Gadsden along the Coosa. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
City of Gadsden officials and Goodwyn Mills Cawood representatives publicly launched the GROW Gadsden Comprehensive Plan public planning process to over 130 attendees on March 14 at The Venue at Coosa Landing.
“A comprehensive plan is a vision for what you want the city to be and a roadmap of how to get there,” said Urban Planner Corey Sosebee of Goodwyn Mills Cawood, the architecture and engineering firm responsible for creating the plan.
Sosebee explained that while the process will take about 10-12 months, citizen feedback is crucial at every stage.
“Our company mission is about building communities,” he said. “We want to try to plan in a way and provide resources for your city to build stronger communities, and that’s the heart of what we’re doing.”
GMC staff asked residents present at the meeting to draft a “vision statement” for the city.
Several entries mentioned offering new and affordable housing, encouraging riverfront development, revitalizing historic neighborhoods and buildings, addressing blighted properties, promoting city unity and “leveraging” Gadsden’s natural resources and quality of life. Most contributions mentioned population growth and retention.
In response, City of Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford outlined a few of his plans for ambitious development, including plans to reroute Highway 411 through what is now First Street and plans to relocate City Hall and market its current property for hotel development.
Ford also announced city bids to contract out demolition of nuisance-abated houses in Gadsden, allowing the city’s building department to move forward in the future without a cumbersome backlog.
“Please stay in tune with this (planning process),” Ford said. “This is a roadmap for the next administrations down the road, 10, 15, 20 years. What you do is you get this master plan and then you continue to modify it as you grow.”
City of Gadsden Chief of Staff Brett Johnson explained that the city is in the midst of a traffic study that will determine the feasibility of potentially rerouting Highway 411.
“We met with US Department of Transportation and State Department of Transportation officials, and they have not said it’s impossible,” Johnson said. “Right now we’re undergoing a feasibility study. We’ve contracted with a traffic study firm that does that specifically.”
The firm in question is Volkert, Inc., the Alabama-based engineering company that recently conducted the Gadsden traffic study that enabled the Eastern Connector project for I-759.
“They will study every street miles and miles out from the radius, because naturally people will change how they travel to and from different places,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we don’t have any adverse negative effects that we’re not thinking about. That (study) will give us a big leg up when we can go back to the transportation officials to say, ‘Look, we’ve done the scientific, objective study, and that scientific study showed that the benefits outweigh the costs.’ At least that’s what we hope it shows.”
Johnson was encouraged by the event’s turnout and hopes to see continued citizen participation in the planning process.
“It shows me that people care,” he said. “That’s the worst thing that could happen, is people stop caring about what the future of Gadsden holds. So if 100-something people can show up on a busy weeknight, it proves that they care and they still believe there’s hope for turning around that population decline.”
Citizens can find the GROW Gadsden survey at forms.office.com/r/YXHdMQrxHM.