I hope you had a chance to read the December Insight on the need for citizen input on the New Hanover County comprehensive plan.
Since that column was written, more work has been accomplished, and I wanted to be sure that everyone has the facts on the process and the plans going forward. Before you take a position, I hope that you have a good understanding of the issues.
Engaging the Public
Let’s begin with a look at the public engagement process approved by the Board of Commissioners which represents the approach the board directed staff to use in developing the plan.
The county commissioners adopted an approach to create a common development vision for the future in unincorporated parts of the county.
The process involved community stakeholders in the goal setting, strategy development, and the future land use elements of the plan. Over 50 public meetings were held, as well as media briefings, social media announcements and targeted outreach.
Stakeholder representatives from multiple sectors were invited and participated in the sessions, including those from:
- Homeowners associations
- Business organizations
- Nonprofit groups
- Community organizations including NHRMC, ILM and the N.C. Ports Authority
- Financial services interests
- Tourism interests
- Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors ®
- Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association
- Interested citizens
- Educational organizations
- City of Wilmington
- Cape Fear Public Utility Authority
Moving forward through implementation, all interested parties are encouraged to continue to participate. The planning board will hold a second work session on March 14 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Government Center with an intended focus on the next phase of the plan, which includes the guidelines for policy creation in the county’s future development ordinance. The public is encouraged to participate.
Fostering Economic Development
The 2014 Pathways to Prosperity Report provides the basis for regional economic development highlighting four target industries for New Hanover County, including: precision manufacturing; life/marine sciences research and development; high-value office operations; and aircraft assembly, modification and maintenance.
The Comprehensive Plan being pursued by New Hanover County embraces these recommendations and seeks to determine where employment centers and commerce zones are encouraged to bring these industry clusters to their fullest potential.
Providing Guidance for Future Development
The natural systems analysis indicates where natural systems such as wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, or flood plains are likely to be located. Federal and state regulations determine how those areas can be developed. The intent of highlighting these features on a map is to make developers aware of potential federal and state regulations impacting the property before investment.
For example, if a developer is looking for land to build a precision manufacturing facility, the analysis will be a source of information to help the developer assess potential regulatory considerations. If the property happens to contain wetlands, it doesn’t preclude development, but could require additional verification.
Collaborating with the City of Wilmington
The City of Wilmington began the process for creating a comprehensive plan in January 2013. The population of Wilmington is expected to grow by more than 61,000 people by 2040. As the city is approximately 90 percent built out, the focus of its plan is on redevelopment and infill development.
New Hanover County began the process for creating a comprehensive plan in July 2013. The plan projects that the population of the unincorporated county will grow by more than 66,000 people by 2040. Most of the growth and development in the unincorporated county will occur on undeveloped land so the focus of the county’s plan is on green-field (or new development) and mixed use development consistent with community interests.
As an example, what the community may want in city locations such as along South College Road may not be the same as the interests of residents or property owners in unincorporated areas of the county, such as Castle Hayne, Porters Neck or Seabreeze.
While the city and the county have varying interests and needs, staffs from both have been collaborative and have maintained a strong working relationship during these initiatives, and in fact serve on each other’s committees.
Together the staff of New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington are exploring parallel paths to rewrite land development ordinances so that planning processes and terminology are consistent in both jurisdictions. These county and city ordinances are the documents that will ultimately govern development practices.
The opportunity to inform the final plan adopted by the Board of Commissioners is not over. In fact, the process still requires involvement from all stakeholders to ensure we create the best plan for our community as we move forward together over the next 25 years.
New Hanover County is committed to progressive public policy, superior service, courteous contact, judicious exercise of authority, and sound fiscal management to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow. See more at http://www.nhcgov.com.