BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Residents of Holt already knew what they wanted for their tornado-damaged community before they attended a recent workshop focusing on the area’s long-term disaster recovery. And they weren’t shy about sharing their united vision.
The April 27 tornadoes pummeled the community of about 3,000, destroying many homes and most of Holt’s businesses. About 130 residents attended the July 12 meeting at Soma Body of Christ Church and were eager to share their needs and wants with each other as well as representatives from the local, state and federal governments.
Probate Judge and Tuscaloosa County Commission Chairman W. Hardy McCollum liked the planning process and requested that the county commission approve the technical assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said the community has a unique opportunity.
“We can forge new partnerships with the state government and FEMA and various other federal agencies to bring opportunities and improve the quality of life here,” he said. “We want to maximize and leverage and get as much out of these opportunities as we can.”
Local officials are partnering with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery Team to devise a plan for Holt’s long-term community recovery at no cost.
Officials are looking to Holt residents to provide overall guidance about the future look and feel of their town. The planning process will include a series of public meetings where residents, business owners and local government officials agree to a realistic and achievable plan for Holt’s recovery. The program also includes the development of sector committees, project identification and the development of a formal recovery plan the community can use to secure funding and manage growth.
As the plan progresses, the team will provide advice on potential zoning changes and ordinances to guide reconstruction.
At their first meeting, residents divided into 10 groups. Each table was draped with a long sheet of white paper and markers. The groups’ task was to take one area of Holt and describe through drawings and words what they wanted their community to look like in the future. After that assignment, each team presented its findings to the entire group.
And, residents were eager to report. They wanted family homes that provide a variety of housing choices, not cookie-cutter neighborhoods. Also on the list were sidewalks and recreation centers that could serve many purposes. A top priority was infrastructure, including central sewer, city water and public transportation to a variety of stores, churches and schools.
“I think this is great and will help us as a community to find out what we want,” said Shirley Billingsley, a long-time resident who attended the meeting.
Aundrea Thomas, president of the Holt Community Partnership, who saw the tornado rip through Holt and has been helping with the clean-up, believed the meeting was fruitful.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “People, for the first time, had a chance to be before elected officials and express what they want and need.”
John Boyle, a community planner working for FEMA, explained to the group that the next time they meet, the team will have taken the material and summarized it.
“Then we all will discuss and develop a community vision and realistic recovery goals,” Boyle said. “We’ll begin to develop project ideas, for example, what is required in terms of money and pa...