McClellan’s thousands of acres represent a challenge and an opportunity. The city’s future is tied to the former Army base — but unlocking its potential will take teamwork and commitment.
In 1995, the Department of Defense announced it was pulling out from the land they’d been using since 1917. Land they’d bought for less than Anniston had paid for it, leaving Anniston in debt for almost 20 years.
Upon pulling out, the DoD gave the city three choices:
1. We’ll clean up the land in our time, on our dime. Then we’ll turn it over to the General Services Administration, which will sell it to the highest bidder. Because your archaic state Constitution stymies county efforts to create zoning laws and building codes, the property could get a slaughterhouse. Could get a wood pulp plant.
2. We won’t clean up the land. We’ll “mothball” the buildings, put a fence around the perimeter and let it sit. Maybe someday we’ll reactivate it. Someday.
3. You clean up the land. We’ll pay. Then you can sell it at fair market value or whatever. It won’t be easy. There are 10 landfills and 38 buried fuel storage tanks and thousands of acres of unexploded mortars, rockets and shells. Someone has to take over the water and sewer systems, the roads, the police and fire protection. The buildings don’t meet your building codes, so they’ll have to be renovated.
Experts have said it takes at least a generation to see a former military base returned to a healthy, vibrant civilian use. McClellan’s rebirth is just now a decade in the making.
Who runs McClellan — and redevelops it — has become an issue in this month’s municipal elections as residents assess what’s best for that huge chunk of land on the north side of town.
Genesis of a community
From an infant, population zero in 1999, McClellan soon grew to about 1,000 people.
Fast-forward to 2033. Houses built in the 1920s on McClellan’s western edge flow into Anniston’s eastern side, thanks to a spur off the Eastern Parkway.
And there’s a touch of magic about McClellan. Maybe it’s the Alabama Symphony that used to just visit, but now stays for the summer. Maybe it’s the Tour de Alabama bicycle race with its headquarters at the Historic Buckner Center.
Maybe it’s the low-equity housing cooperative started by developers looking at a long-distance bottom line.
Whatever it is, it’s good. Very good.