Ward 1 Councilwoman Verlinda White attempted to be the voice of reason at Tuesday night’s Auburn City Council meeting as fierce words from the Northwest Auburn community assailed the council and its intentions.
Over the past year and a half, city officials have been under fire from members of the Northwest Auburn community, who have accused them of neglect in creating and implementing the Northwest Auburn Neighborhood Plan.
Controversy arose because of proposed zoning changes in Northwest Auburn as well as potential development and construction in the area. Some residents feel as if they have been ignored in their pleas for further information and clarification from the city.
White, whose ward encompasses much of the northwest area of town, called for collaboration on the part of both the council and the residents of Northwest Auburn.
“Change is inevitable — it can happen — but we will not all understand all the components of it," White said at Tuesday's meeting. "That’s why we have to work as a team.”
L.B. Jackson, a resident and passionate voice for the community, has attended each council meeting this year and has been a fierce critic of the process at many of them.
“Some of our strong concerns at this
On Monday, Jackson met with City Manager Jim
“I don’t think we need to polarize against each other,” White said. “There is misinformation. ... More information will be compiled so that we can get on the same page.”
There have been several educational meetings since the conception of the plan in fall 2016, and the plan was developed with input from residents, yet Jackson and other members of the Auburn community still seem unsatisfied with the city's plan.
These meetings would allow council members and city engineers to sit with the citizens of Northwest Auburn, to hear their concerns and to act on them moving forward.
The mayor invited those in attendance to a future meeting where residents and representatives from the city could talk in an open forum.
“There is a process that these things have to go through, and know that process will be a good thing,” Ham said.
Members of the Northwest community have expressed worries over possible gentrification or studentification, a term for an influx of college students into traditionally non-student neighborhoods.
Provisions have been made to prevent the construction of purpose-built student housing in Northwest Auburn. This does not mean, however, that a student could not live in a home or apartment in the area.
Barbara Pitts, a member of Bell Missionary Baptist Church in Northwest Auburn, presented her concerns to the council on Tuesday night.
“I am disillusioned,” she said. “I am having difficulty, so I know that other people are having difficulty in understanding these issues.”
Not all are opposed to the changes. Frank McLeod, a bishop in the area who also owns properties in Auburn and Opelika, said he was in favor of the city's plan and was willing to assist other community members in understanding it.
White, who graduated from Auburn University, said she attended both Auburn and Bell Missionary Baptist Church by walking from her house in Northwest Auburn.
The councilwoman attempted to bridge the two sides of the debate by emphasizing the special balance between progress and preservation. White said she sees the lack of education about homeownership as a major problem in Northwest Auburn and said the community and the city needed to work together to mitigate the issue.
She spoke of the need for more mixed-use housing in the area and said she didn’t want public housing as an option for her retirement.
“I am always open to learning, and we cannot learn if we are not open to our differences," White said. "We cannot stay stuck. We have to move.”
On Tuesday, City Council voted to approve speed bumps on Foster Street, part of the Northwest Auburn plan.
The council will vote on implementing other portions of the neighborhood plan at its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 20. The Auburn Planning Commission voted to recommend the changes last month.