By Brad Hicks
With a pair of proposals now in hand, the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County now has a choice to make.
The JEDB heard from First Tennessee Development District officials during a meeting held on Friday, May 19, at Erwin Town Hall. Representatives from the regional planning agency were on hand to present the agency’s proposal for a consolidated comprehensive land use plan for Unicoi County.
It will now be up to the JEDB to decide if it will accept the FTDD’s proposal or a proposal previously submitted by a Charlotte, N.C.-based planning firm.
During Friday’s meeting, Cory Osborne, a community planner with the FTDD, detailed what would be included in, a completion timeline for, and estimated cost of developing the plan.
The goal of the consolidated comprehensive land use plan, or CCLP, is to guide future development for all of Unicoi County, including Erwin and the Town of Unicoi. According to the FTDD, the document will include both elements of a land use and transportation plan, along with other components to round out a full comprehensive plan.
“Given the twenty-year horizon of the completed plan, the focus is on providing the JEDB with a finished product containing flexible goals that can evolve with the communities over time,” the FTDD proposal states.
Osborne told JEDB members that the framework of the document would be broken into several categories, including a community profile, land use and development, housing, utilities and infrastructure, transportation and mobility, parks and recreation, economy, and implementation.
To develop the community profile aspect of the plan, FTDD officials would examine the area’s history, the local government structures, the area’s demographics, information on local education, current zoning and land use maps, and community facilities and services, among other data and maps. This information, according to the proposal, would help establish a baseline for planning goals moving forward.
The land use and development section of the plan is intended to inform future decision-making and regulations by “combining stakeholder input and best planning practices based on community characteristics,” according to the FTDD proposal. This component of the plan would include future land use maps, historic preservation guidance, information on municipal growth, an analyses of subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances, and development goals, objectives and strategies.
An overview of current community housing characteristics and the identification of future housing objectives is also to be included in the plan document. According to the FTDD, aspects of the plan’s housing section will include current housing estimates, the local rental profile, and historic and current home values, among other information and data.
The utilities and infrastructure section of the plan is intended to inventory existing services and providers within the county and highlight areas of need while identifying potential funding sources for utilities expansions. The transportation and mobility portion of the document would inventory the county’s existing transportation network, including roads and rail, and would map out traffic generators, roadway functional classifications, major thoroughfare plan designations, crash data, and pavement maintenance responsibility jurisdiction.
Like other sections of the plan, the FTDD proposal states stakeholder input will be crucial in forming the goals and objections included in the transportation and mobility section.
The parks and recreation section of the FTDD’s plan would focus on the county’s natural resources and the efforts of the parks and recreation departments of Unicoi County’s two municipalities.
“The County is well-positioned with a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities that will be highlighted and inventoried,” the FTDD proposal states. “Federal, state and local facilities and properties will be addressed. The parks and recreation section will also incorporate information about community events. The goals and objectives of this section will be heavily formed by local staff and public input.”
The economy section of the plan would include information on major employers across the county, workforce data, economic indicators, community patterns and active economic development entities.
“While this section will include areas of opportunity derived from stakeholder input, it is not intended to serve as a strategic plan or detailed site selection analysis,” the FTDD proposal states. “Past plans, studies, and local economic development staff may be relied upon for formulation of objectives and strategies in this section if so desired.”
The implementation component would summarize the goals and objectives of each of the plan’s sections and would detail potential strategies for achieving each goal and would provide ideal implementation timetables.
“The process for adoption of the plan will be elaborated upon and the need for continual review and updating of the plan as a living document will be emphasized,” the proposal states.
Osborne said the plan process would be broken up into three phases completed over a 16-month period. The first phase, which would take around six months, involves project initiation meetings with JEDB members and other local officials to hammer out expectations and the direction of the plan. The collection and analyses of data for several sections of the plan would also take place during this phase.
The second phase, which would occur over months 7 to 13, would focus on obtaining public input for the plan. Several public input sessions would be held and surveys would possibly be used to garner input during this phase. Based on that feedback and data collected, the FTDD would begin drafting the goals and objectives for each of the plan’s sections, as well as the build of the land use development component.
Phase three of the process, which would occur over months 13 to 16, would include the presentation of the initial comprehensive plan draft to the JEDB for input and any necessary revisions, Osborne said. Following this input, a final version of the plan would be developed and submitted to the JEDB, along with the legislative bodies of the county’s three governments.
Osborne said the FTDD would bring a “local view” to the plan process, adding the agency regularly works in Unicoi County.
“We’ve been here and we intend to be here for a long time,” Osborne said. “So I think our strength is we are already involved with the community and, when it comes to implementing the plan and getting feedback from stakeholders, we already have those connections and relationships built. We would be there during the plan drafting and also after the plan is drafted to help through adoption and then implementation.”
Osborne said the FTDD’s estimated cost for completion of the plan is $53,101. Around $51,000 of this cost is for the labor involved in the plan’s development and is based on 675 FTDD staff hours. If the labor hours exceed the 675, the price of the plan’s development would not increase as it would be capped at the $53,101, Osborne said. If the plan takes fewer than 675 staff hours to develop, the cost would be prorated and the cost would be reduced based on the actual hours spent developing the plan, Osborne said.
In April, the JEDB voted to allow planners from the FTDD to present their proposal for a comprehensive plan. This vote was made as the panel discussed a proposal previously presented by the North Carolina-based Benchmark Planning.
Several months ago, the JEDB sent out a request for proposal to field proposals companies interested in developing a comprehensive land use plan for Unicoi County. Benchmark Planning, a firm that focuses on comprehensive planning, downtown master planning, economic development and regional planning, responded to the RFP with a document detailing a 17-month, multi-phase work program.
In late March, Benchmark Planning President Jason Epley met with JEDB members to discuss his company’s proposal. He said the planning project would involve two phases. The land use and economic development plan would represent the first phase, while the comprehensive plan would represent the second component.
Epley previously said the land use and economic development plan would be “very data-driven,” adding work on the plan could begin soon and run through late 2017. The comprehensive plan, which would build upon the land use and economic development plan, could begin in early 2018 and be completed in November 2018, Epley said.
According to the Benchmark proposal, the first phase of the project is estimated to cost $47,750, and the second phase is estimated to cost a little more than $50,000. The JEDB was set to consider approval of Benchmark’s first phase work in April when it instead voted to allow the FTDD to present its proposal.
The JEDB intends to use a $50,000 grant the county previously received through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business Development Grant program to help cover planning costs. JEDB officials are also hoping to acquire additional money, such as funding through the Governor’s ThreeStar program, to put toward planning.
The JEDB will meet this Friday at 11 a.m. at Erwin Town Hall to consider approval of one of the two proposals now in hand. This meeting will be preceded by a 9:30 a.m. meeting of the JEDB’s Executive Committee to discuss the board’s budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.