New Hanover County publicly launched its 18-month comprehensive planning initiative bringing together a cross-section of residents’ perspectives to formulate a long-term vision for the community’s future.
About 75 residents, business leaders, county and city government workers, nonprofit staffers and elected officials gathered Feb. 27 at the 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,” county planning director Chris O’Keefe said.
Karyn Crichton and Dylan McDonnell from the county’s planning department presented an overview of developmental and demographic patterns throughout the county during the past 40 years.
A recurring theme was the county’s high population density, which has grown significantly, and is expected to reach 337,000 residents by 2040. Crichton also noted a 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, said participants will be divided 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 will meet four times during the spring and summer. Their efforts will culminate in policy proposals to be incorporated into the plan. Themes 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 start working with everyone here,” Rigby said. “We tried to keep the process simple, and by keeping it simple and straightforward I hope we can keep people more engaged.”
Duane Truscott, University of North Carolina Wilmington landscaper, said he learned about the event during 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.”