Spotlight on Citizen Boards and Commissions: The Anniston Planning Commission

Members of Anniston City boards, councils, and commissions serve as vital links between Anniston’s citizenry, its elected officials and city administrators. They bring valuable expertise and experience to decision making and guarantee that all of Anniston’s citizens are represented in the shaping of their city.

The benefits of having boards, councils and commissions led by citizen volunteers are numerous. These organized groups assist elected officials with the formulation of public policy, help build public consensus on issues of concern, and provide communities with forums for discussion. Whereas these groups fall under the umbrella of the City of Anniston, some are completely independent. Anniston Mayor Jack Draper recently referred to them as “citizen-led democracy in its purest form.”

Link here to a list of City of Anniston boards, councils and commissions.

More than fifteen different City boards, commissions, and councils operate in areas from transportation to infrastructure to healthcare to recreation. Depending on their missions, these groups meet on a regular schedule and are governed by bylaws. Recently, we featured the Historic Preservation Committee.  In this article, we’ll focus on the Anniston Planning Commission.

The Anniston Planning Commission was created through enabling State legislation which mandates that it meet monthly, maintain accurate records and most importantly, develop and adopt a comprehensive plan for the city of Anniston. Of the APC’s nine members, eight are appointed by Anniston’s mayor; the Anniston City Council appoints the final member council ex-officio. Members serve six-year terms.

City of Anniston Director of Economic Development and City Planning Toby Bennington works closely with members of the APC. Bennington explained that State legislation guides local planning commissions, but that there is “no one set template” for developing a comprehensive plan. “Although there are fundamental areas to cover in any comprehensive plan, they are designed depending on the unique needs of each community,” says Bennington.

Conceptually, a comprehensive plan considers all that a citizenry hope their city to become — from how its most vulnerable citizens are served to the appearance of its streetscapes to the location of neighborhoods and business to infrastructure development. Technically, a comprehensive plan addresses its implementation and evaluation; regulatory activities (zoning ordinances); functional planning (priority and delivery of public services); and economic development and redevelopment. Once adopted, the plan becomes a living document, guiding citizens and leaders toward a shared vision.

Planning means housing choice. Planning means safe communities and a better commute. Planning means communities of lasting value. When government officials, business leaders, and citizens come together to build communities that enrich people’s lives, that’s planning. (Source: American Planning Association)

Downtown business owner and long-time resident Ann Welch is chair of the APC. She knows that an informed and knowledgeable commission is best equipped to develop a thoughtful and judicious comprehensive plan. “The Commission is building a foundation, collecting and analyzing existing data and information about the City. We’re analyzing where we are and what has been done — before we move forward,” said Welch.

Comprehensive planning involves not only Anniston but those areas adjacent to the City. Knowing how entities beyond city boundaries adequately serve Annistonians helps avoid duplication and waste.

APC members will soon participate in an intensive certification program known as Certified Alabama Planning & Zoning Official CAPZO. The program is designed to provide local planning commissions, elected officials and others involved in local growth issues with the essential skills and knowledge necessary to effectively serve in their appointed positions. Their communities, in turn, benefit from an informed leadership.

CAPZO training includes an understanding of the legal foundation for planning and zoning in Alabama, and the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a planning commission; knowledge of basic zoning and subdivision regulations; methods to prepare, adopt, implement and provide ongoing review of a comprehensive plan; and processes to help navigate the political and institutional implications of a comprehensive plan as a public statement of the city’s development policies.

Welch said the program also offers APC members ways to engage the community in idea generation and goal setting.

Comprehensive planning is the formulation of developmental policies for a city and surrounding areas. Its scope is broad, including all the services for which the city is responsible. (Source: The State of Alabama, Manual for Planning Commissions.)

Welch underscored the value of having a comprehensive plan in place saying, “It’s a mark of professionalism. We can all learn and benefit from the process.” A comprehensive plan is also a critical economic development tool. Welch explained, “We can put it into the hands of developers, consultants, planners, elected officials and others. It shows them that we know where we are going, how we want our city to develop and why.”

But didn’t we just finish a master plan? “Yes,” says Welch, “The 2014 One City One Vision plan was strategic in nature. It was a great start, and it gave us helpful generalizations. The process of formulating a comprehensive plan will let us drill down into One City One Vision.” Welch provided the example of the often-mentioned we need jobs from the strategic plan. In the comprehensive plan, that comment helps design, coordinate and implement the infrastructure and services that best serve a new generation of workers.

Developing a comprehensive plan may take several months, but, Welch explained, “It’s a very inclusive and egalitarian process that requires thoroughness. By the time the plan is adopted, everyone who was a part of developing it should be able to identify his or her contribution and understand how it will affect them.”

Information for this article was provided by the following:

Jack Draper, Mayor, City of Anniston

Ann Welch, Chair, Anniston Planning Commission

Toby Bennington, City of Anniston Director of Economic Development and City Planning

Interested in serving on a City of Anniston Board or Commission? Complete the Board Application and return it to or mail it to City of Anniston, Attn: Alan Atkinson, City Clerk, P.O. Box 2168, Anniston, AL 36202



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