Aldermen receive comprehensive plan, give tentative go-ahead for RiverFest

Bob Barber tells aldermen about the comprehensive plan he is presenting.

Bob Barber of the Orion Planning and Design group presented the new comprehensive plan for the City of New Albany to aldermen Tuesday.

“What I want to do is to get New Albany NEXT on the table before the board,” he said, noting it has been approved by the planning and zoning board already.

The plan is the result of work over a year and a half by local groups and planning professionals incorporating public meetings and comment.

“We started this process with New Albany about a year and a half ago with a community meeting. New Albany was trying to determine if it needed to update its plan. We have now drafted it and is in final form what is now the New Albany NEXT Comprehensive Plan,” Barber told aldermen. “Through this process New Albany has expressed itself, its hopes, dreams, desires about the future of the community.”

Barber has had praise for the community throughout the planning process and said, “It’s not just flattery. New Albany is an exceptional community in our part of the world. There is more energy and vibrancy going on than in many, many places we go.”

“The comprehensive plan sets the tone and tenor, the general direction for the community over time,” Barber said.

He predicted success for implementation of the plan, adding, “It’s already seeped into a number of initiatives and the plan is not even adopted,”

He was referring to information about the plan that has been requested by potential industrial prospects for the community.

Barber briefly talked about what is covered in the 128-page document. It includes information about current city assets, population, land use, development trends, market data, enumerates elements of focus and how to implement the resulting plan.

The plan is one part of the group’s mission while the second part is to update city zoning codes and make them easier to understand and use for the public. That part of the work is still in progress.

Barber thinks residents will be pleased. “The plan sets New Albany among the top tier communities in its size in our region,” he said.

The city’s current comprehensive plan was done in 1997 and updated in 2006.

The plan will come up for adoption at the August board meeting. Before then, it will be available on the New Albany NEXT website for the public to read.


Tallahatchie RiverFest

Also at the meeting, aldermen discussed the annual Tallahatchie RiverFest in light of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival is held the last weekend of September and was created to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of New Albany native and Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner.

“It’s hard to predict what it’s going to be like in September,” Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson said. “Do we want to just look at doing the music part, or doing the music and food service part or vendors and service and the full thing?”

“It is an open venue so we’re not in a closed-off room,” Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud said. “Schools are opening back August. It’s important to merchants downtown and our restaurants, too. This festival brings a lot of people to their restaurants and shops.”

Stroud said they could have the full festival or music only or with limited vendors. Spacing vendors could be handled but it would be difficult to enforce spacing in the Park Along the River for the concert part of the event.

Anderson was concerned about having out-of-town people coming in that there is no way to tell what their exposure might have been.

“I think we need to move forward but try to be safe and prevent the spread,” Ward One Alderman Amy Livingston said, advocating the need for some coronavirus plan.

Stroud said the city is already committed to a feature act but a decision on vendors and other parts of the event can wait until close to the festival date.

The consensus of the board was for Stroud to go ahead with plans for the event, but to incorporate a plan to deal with the coronavirus as part of it.


Departmental business

In department business, Light, Gas and Water Manager Bill Mattox got approval for pay requests concerning work on the new wastewater treatment plant. He also received authority to advertise for bids on clearing right of way and materials to renovate the electric substation on Butler Avenue.

Aldermen approved the hiring of Jessica Crumpton Dees as a cashier for the department, replacing someone who is resigning.

Police Chief Chris Robertson reported that his department is going to host a workshop for law enforcement sponsored by the district attorney’s office on de-escalation and cultural diversity in dealing with crisis situations July 30 at the civic center. Retired FBI Special Agent Jeffery Artis will lead the program.

He told aldermen that his department has leads on individuals who burglarized the Second Amendment Gun Shop but the officer injured in the pursuit is still having medical issues. A Holly Springs officer rear-ended the New Albany officer’s vehicle and Robertson said an estimate on the damage is $14,000. He said he can get a good two-year-old vehicle for $17,500 and recommended that rather than having the damaged car repaired. The board took no action and the chief said he was not asking for any since it is so close to budget time.

Acting Fire Chief Mark Whiteside received permission to purchase a new replacement pump for their Jaws of Life vehicle extrication tool. “The old one is worn out,” he said. It is 11 or 12 years old and too small, he added, and a new one will be larger and work with more tools. The new pump will cost $7,550, is a single-source purchase and will be paid for from fire protection funds.

Whiteside reminded the board that the city’s fire rating had officially been changed to a more favorable Class 4, and that he has talked with individuals whose fire insurance ratings have indeed been lower as a result. Property owners still need to contact their insurance companies to be certain they receive appropriate discounts.

Also, Whiteside wanted to publicly thank Windham Appliance for a donation to the fire department. Whiteside said the department approached Windham about purchasing a replacement for a worn-out dryer and he offered to give the department a good used one free instead.

Building Inspector and Zoning Administrator Eric Thomas said there had been no meeting of the planning and zoning board in July but that one of the board members will roll off in September. He said he has some potential members in mind but asked for any suggestions from aldermen as well.

Thomas also asked to set a condemnation hearing on the structure at 530 Church Street for the August board meeting. He noted that the building has had no electric power in the past 10 years.


Street maintenance and other items

Aldermen briefly discussed the street paving project. Alderman Anderson said Mayor Tim Kent told him the company that would do the cape seal process, which is a chip seal with microsurface, on some streets would not be here until September or October. However, there is no reason not to authorize the street commissioner to go ahead with the streets selected for regular overlay paving. Some of the streets set for improvement include Highland, Carter, Moss Hill and Denmill. About $1 million is available with the addition of special millage designated for street work a year ago. Aldermen have tried to equally divide the money among the four wards as much as is practical.

Ward One Alderman Amy Livingston wanted it clarified that the city has no authority over flags at the county courthouse but the state flag at City Hall and other city buildings will be retired in the next week and at least one copy will be given to the museum.

Alderman-at-Large Keith Conlee brought up the issue of having a dog park, which has been studied by the city NASA sustainability committee. Plans call for a fenced dog park in part of the Park Along the River near the old Fred’s building. Erecting the fence and creating a path to the area will be the first phase. Because the money is already available in the budget, aldermen approved.

A request also came up concerning the farmers’ market.

In the past, the market had been operated by the Union County Master Gardeners, who have said they no longer want to be involved in management and financial operations with the market. Businesswoman Mary Jennifer Russell, who owns the property where the market is held and helped rejuvenate it, has been unofficially helping this year although because of the coronavirus the market is essentially being operated as a bare-bones roadside market.

A proposal apparently has been made for an entity called the Vickie Smith Foundation to take over the market and receive the $5,000 budgeted for the Master Gardeners each year. Aldermen tabled the question to learn more about this foundation and determine whether there is a need to spend this money on the market.

Alderman Anderson presided over the meeting Tuesday because Mayor Kent was absent due to health issues and Alderman Livingston participated by phone.

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