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NHC Prepares To Launch Comprehensive Plan

By Jenny Callison, posted Feb 25, 2014
Staff members helping get the word out on New Hanover County's comprehensive planning process are, from left: ShawnC Ralston, Chris O'Keefe, arey Disney Ricks and Jennifer Rigby. (Photo by Jenny Callison)
CORRECTION: This version corrects the time of the launch event to 3-5 p.m. Thursday.

With the launch of its comprehensive planning process just two days away, New Hanover County planners are encouraging county residents to participate in the wide-ranging effort.

“We want everyone – stay-at-home moms, janitors working three jobs so they can afford to feed their family, executives, educators – to be part of this process,” said county long-range planner Jennifer Rigby. “We hope they will keep an open mind coming in and hope they will say what is working well [in the county] and what is not.”

A launch event takes place 3-5 p.m. Thursday at the NHC Government Center, 230 Government Center Drive, Suite 135. Attendees will hear from the staff members involved about goals for the comprehensive planning process, how the process will work and the timetable it will follow. They will also get, in Rigby’s words, “lots and lots of statistics” that will provide a base for the work of six theme committees over the next few months.

Attendees will also be encouraged to sign up for one of those theme committees described by county officials as:
•    Livable built environment: Ensure that all elements of the built environment, including land use, transportation, housing, energy, and infrastructure work together to provide sustainable, green places for living, working and recreation.
•    Harmony with nature: Ensure the contributions of natural resources to human well-being are explicitly recognized and valued and that maintaining their health is a primary objective.
•    Resilient economy: Ensure the community is prepared to deal with both positive and negative changes in its economic health and to initiate sustainable urban development and redevelopment strategies that foster business growth through technology and innovation and build reliance on local assets.
•    Interwoven equity: Ensure fairness and equity in providing housing, services, health, safety and livelihood needs of all citizen groups.
•    Healthy community: Ensure public health needs are recognized and addressed through provisions for healthy foods, physical activity, access to recreation, health care, environmental justice and safe neighborhoods.
•    Responsible regionalism: Ensure all local proposals account for, connect with and support the plans of adjacent jurisdictions and the surrounding region.

Rigby said that each committee would first discuss issues and problems related to its theme area, research best management practices with regard to them – looking at how other communities have successfully addressed them, explore possible policies that can work for New Hanover County and develop specific policy recommendations.

Final recommendations will go to New Hanover County commissioners for their approval.

The planners are hoping to recruit at least 20 individuals for each committee but could accommodate up to 50, Rigby said.

“We will not turn anyone away who wants to participate,” she said.

County planning and zoning manager Shawn Ralston said that, once the comprehensive planning process is completed, the planning staff will update the county’s zoning ordinance and look at the existing urban services boundary to see if it accurately reflects areas that should continue to be left without water and sewer and other urban services.

“The zoning ordinance was written in 1969, and the community has changed a good deal – it’s become a good deal more urban – and we need to have the tools to accommodate change,” said Chris O’Keefe, the county’s planning and inspections director.

The comprehensive planning process is proceeding in alignment with the county’s strategic plans as well as with Garner Economics LLC’s development of an economic development strategy for the county, said county spokeswoman Carey Disney Ricks.

County planners said they are also communicating with City of Wilmington planning staff who are at work on the city’s comprehensive plan, an effort that began last March.

For more information about the public launch event or the comprehensive planning process in general, click here or email jrigby@nhcgov.com

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