If You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take it - Yogi Berra
New Hanover County Commissioners have reached a crossroads. They can either send a clear statement that they are proud to preserve our wonderful quality of life, protect our coastal assets and natural resources and adopt policy that promotes economic growth and long-term job opportunities for all residents, or that they are willing to knowingly impair or sacrifice our natural resources and public health in the name of economic development at any cost.
That is the message they will send when the board votes on whether or not to adopt proposed revisions to the county’s Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP). County Commissioner Rob Zapple, a strong supporter of the SUP process stated: "A revised Special Use Permit will play an important role in shaping our community for years to come. A Special Use Permit that works for everyone - protecting our environment and quality of life, while providing clear direction and predictability for the economic development of our community is critical to that success."
A number of revisions will be before the board this fall, and we’ll all be watching how they vote.
Our competitive advantages of coastal location, historic downtown riverfront, diverse recreation and natural resources, skilled workforce, climate and a growing local economy oblige land-use guidelines that enhance and maintain these attributes, while also ensuring a foundation for a strong economy and job growth.
Our county leaders should encourage the existing momentum that’s transforming our region’s economy away from polluting industries to capitalize on industries that provide living wages and sustainable employment for all our residents, including marine sciences, technology, service and tourism-based enterprises.
Across the country, there are numerous savvy communities with the wisdom to promote economic development that places importance on their human and natural assets. They realize they no longer need to embrace companies that exploit a community’s resources, leaving a legacy of poor air quality and depleted and contaminated creeks, rivers and drinking water. Existing businesses and potential investors in these communities recognize there must be smart growth policies to safeguard our region and assets, a policy that can work in tandem to grow the economy and improve our quality of life and career opportunities for all residents.
In 2009, county leaders recognized the potential for increasing land-use conflicts and embarked on a two-year process to evaluate and revise their zoning ordinance for industrial operations. Like adjacent Brunswick and Pender counties, the commission adopted a SUP process that provided local review and discretion to accept or reject future industrial prospects based upon whether or not they fit into the region’s economy, communities and environment. The SUP was our first environmentally proactive step in our region’s economic growth process.
Further discussions with potential industries and the community identified needed improvements to provide clarity, objectiveness and targeted timelines for recruitment of those industries identified as appropriate for our community. In 2014, the North Carolina Coastal Federation led a community-wide effort to work with independent planning consultants, stakeholders and county staff to rectify the identified issues and improve the overall SUP process. After more than a year of preparation, a model Industrial SUP has been completed and submitted to county leaders for their adjudication.
The newly revised SUP proposal provides greater clarity and understanding for potential industrial users, as well as clearly identifying those industry sectors that would not be suitable for our region. Importantly, they provide specific requirements and appropriate timelines for low-impact industries and a more comprehensive, public review process for a small but significant number of potential heavily polluting industries. If the model Industrial SUP is adopted, as proposed, clean and compatible industrial uses should receive their permits with few, if any, delays.
Under the language of the proposed Industrial SUP ordinance, most new industries will require no review or permit within the established industrial zones provided by the county. For the known heavy industrial users, the Industrial SUP process involves more community awareness and participation and greater opportunities to assess the potential negative effects of the industry on the region’s existing economic drivers, public health and the natural environment. I am sure our commissioners value the community review and input component, as well as comprehend the potentially negative impacts of censoring the electorate in this permitting process.
If the county commission adopts the model Industrial SUP this fall, it will provide strong assurances of its 21st century economic vision for the Cape Fear region. Residents and potential investors in our communities will be watching to see if the current New Hanover County Board of Commissioners affirms its commitment to a clean and growing economy that creates diverse job opportunities for all residents.
The CFEDC brings together industry, community leaders, and the public to foster collaboration, transparency, inspiration and alignment around a shared regional vision. To learn more about the Cape Fear Economic Development Council or become a member, go to www.capefearedc.org or call (910) 471-1616.
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