Alderman Thom Hamilton.jpg

As the city of West Monroe’s consultants gather data for a “master plan” recommending how to select future projects, one alderman suggests establishing a program buying and managing vacant properties.

A “land bank” created by the city to buy and hold vacant or tax-foreclosed properties for redevelopment could help revitalize older neighborhoods, says West Monroe Alderman Thom Hamilton.

“I would like to see the city start revitalizing old neighborhoods,” Hamilton said. “It doesn’t necessarily benefit us right now, but it could be very useful 50 years from now when all our houses and neighborhoods are that much older.”

Hamilton says he offered that proposal earlier this month during discussions with Atlas Community Studios, a Des Moines, Iowa strategic consulting firm.

Atlas Community Studios delivered a presentation on the city’s ongoing “master plan” at the West Monroe Board of Aldermen’s regular meeting on Nov. 9.

Earlier this year, the city paid Atlas Community Studios to develop a “master plan,” using funds from a $76,000 federal grant and $30,000 from the city’s coffers. The “master plan” is expected to guide future city projects through the next five years and would include recommendations for land use, improving quality of life and more.

“I think some people can get confused by the term, master plan,” said Alex Holland, with Atlas Community Studios. “It’s not a regulatory document but it is a blueprint for economic development strategies. It’s a living document that is updated.”

According to Hamilton, a land bank could be created by the city but managed by another entity. Historically, land bank programs were developed to address blighted properties by making making parcels ready for development, including the process of clearing the title.

“That’s one thing I want in the plan,” Hamilton said. “It’s an effective strategy for city renewal. It has worked in cities, especially larger cities where there is demand for land in the inner city.”

Mayor Staci Mitchell said she was considering Hamilton’s proposal.

“Land Banks have worked well in other areas to help redevelop property in order to return properties to productive uses to meet the community’s goals,” Mitchell said. “We expect the citywide master plan to be completed sometime in early 2022 with recommendations for the city of West Monroe to explore.  Once the master plan is finalized, we believe land banks will be something that we will begin to research and learn more about how they operate.”

According to Holland, with Atlas Community Studios, the “master plan” is not yet finished.

“We’re putting the finishing touches on a land use map,” Holland said. “We’ll present a draft plan to the steering committee by the end of the year.”

Holland said one of the master plan’s major recommendations would be rewriting the city’s zoning ordinances.

“That is something is actively going on,” Holland said.

Other recommendations could include more aggressive riverfront development.

“We’re looking at an amphitheater, a marina, fishing opportunities, and more,” Holland said.

Alderman James “Polk” Brian said he believed Mitchell’s master plan had potential to bring more people to West Monroe, especially to Antique Alley.

“I hope it takes us in the right direction and improves what we’re doing,” Brian said.

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