With vision for a more walkable downtown, Alcoa, TN digs in to its zoning codes

alcoaChris Duerksen (left) and Roger Millar (right) lead Alcoa, TN’s technical assistance workshop on smart growth zoning for small cities.

The aluminum industry brought jobs and new residents to Alcoa, TN over the last 100 years. Now the city is working to evolve and remain vibrant for 100 years to come. An update to the city’s development and zoning codes is one way they’re making that happen.

To get that project off the ground, the City of Alcoa and the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) welcomed Smart Growth America and Clarion Associates for a technical assistance workshop on September 1 and 2, 2015. Roger Millar, Smart Growth America’s Vice President of Technical Assistance, and Chris Duerksen, Clarion’s Senior Counsel, met Alcoa leaders and community members to talk about smart growth zoning codes for small cities. The workshop was designed to show how zoning code changes can help create vibrant town centers within small cities, as well as how more compact, walkable development can boost the local economy and reduce public expenses.

The first day of the workshop included a public forum to provide an overview of smart growth strategies for small cities — over 60 community members attended. The workshop’s second day brought together Mayor Dun Mull, TPO Director Jeff Welch, staff from both the City and the TPO, and members of the East Tennessee Community Design Center and Alcoa West Plant developers.

plan-east-tennessee-alocaA walkable, mixed-use downtown is part of Alcoa’s vision for growth in coming years. Photo via Plan East Tennessee.

The second day’s conversation focused on Alcoa’s goals for a mixed-use town center in coming years, and how the City’s could change its zoning codes to better achieve those goals. The conversation was informed by Smart Growth America and Clarion’s detailed diagnosis of Alcoa’s zoning code and suggestions for improvement.

Participants raised questions about balancing parking requirements and modifying the existing mixed-use district, as well as how to refine standards for building heights, setbacks, and density, and how to make sure new development is compatible with existing neighborhoods. Participants also discussed these question in context of the Alcoa company’s West Plant site, which is slated for redevelopment.

The technical workshop program is made possible through a five-year Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, which seeks to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses, while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place. Two other nonprofit organizations—Global Green USA and Project for Public Spaces—also received competitively awarded grants this year to support communities in their efforts to bolster smart growth initiatives.

Learn more about this workshop in the materials below. Progress reports from the Alcoa project will also be posted here in the future.

Workshop materials:

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Technical assistance