ONLINE UPDATE: County’s citizen-led planning initiative takes off

by Sam Wilson
Thursday, February 27, 2014

New Hanover County publicly launched its 18-month comprehensive planning initiative Thursday, in an effort to bring together a cross-section of residents’ perspectives to formulate a long-term vision for the community’s future.

About 75 residents, including laborers, business leaders, county and city government workers, nonprofit staffers and elected officials gathered Feb. 27 at the county government center for the launch.

“The comprehensive plan process that we are launching here today will have a great impact on what New Hanover County will be like in 25 years,” said county planning director Chris O’Keefe before the presentations.

Following the introduction, Karyn Crichton and Dylan McDonnell from the county’s planning department presented an overview of developmental and demographic patterns throughout the county in the past forty years.

A recurring theme was the county’s high population density, which has grown significantly in the past several decades, with the county expected to reach 337,000 residents by 2040. Crichton also noted growing senior population, in addition to higher-than-average income levels and green space.

However, McDonnell noted several environmental concerns, with a majority of the waterways pollution-impaired and closed to shellfishing, and average ozone levels that could exceed standards being proposed by the federal government.

Jennifer Rigby, the county’s long-range planner who is spearheading the initiative, said the citizens’ involvement portion will divide participants into six core groups, each focusing on a theme addressing a different aspect of the plan.

Open to anyone from the public to join at any time during the process, those groups, dubbed “theme committees,” will then meet four times during the spring and summer, their efforts will culminating in policy proposals to be incorporated into the plan. They include livable built environment, harmony with nature, responsible regionalism, interwoven equity, healthy communities and a resilient economy.

“I’m really pleased with the turnout; I feel that we have a great, energized group and I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and starting working with everyone here,” Rigby said as participants milled around the tables. “We tried to keep the process simple, and by keeping it simple and straightforward I hope we can keep people more engaged.”

Duane Truscott, a landscaper for the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said he learned about the event at a recent meeting of the Cape Fear Economic Development Council.

“What I tried to do before I got in here, was to try to check my ego at the door,” Truscott said. “I like the idea of being part of the solution – that’s a big thing to me. I stopped pointing fingers a long time ago, because I found once you do that, you have three pointed straight back at you.”

However, Mark Mueller, a financial planner residing in Ogden, was more cautious in his optimism. Having formerly worked for the county planning department, he said he had seen similar plans fail to meet expectations.

“We did one back around 2010, where they had the county employees get together and they shared their different ideas, but over time it just kind of lost steam,” Mueller said.

But he added that quality of life in the county could be a focus for developing a long-term plan.

“My wife is a CFO for a company that mostly does business in South Carolina,” he said. “But they have their headquarters here, [and] they prefer to live here. I think we do need to find ways to incentivize people to want to live here.”

County residents interested in participating in the plan can learn more, including ways to get involved, by contacting Rigby at (910) 798-7237 or jrigby@nhcgov.com.

The full story will be printed Thursday, March 6.

email sam@luminanews.com

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