Citizen involvement moves comprehensive plan forward

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New Hanover County’s first comprehensive plan is one step closer to completion.

During an Aug. 12 presentation, county planning staff and community volunteers presented 25 citizen-generated priorities to shape future growth. Jennifer Rigby, the county long range planner in charge of the plan, commended 161 volunteers for logging more than 800 hours from March through July to brainstorm and draft the policies.

“Sometimes conversations were lively and spirited in our theme committee meetings but the one thing that remained the same was that we all have shared one goal, and that was to make New Hanover County a place that our children and our grandchildren would want to grow up in,” Rigby said during the presentation.

Volunteers worked in six committees, each focused on priorities for future growth including: fair and equitable access to needs like safety, health services and housing; economic resiliency; infrastructure development that retains quality-of-life and preserves natural resources; and compatibility and cooperation with adjacent jurisdictions for regional growth.

The draft policies will now move to a citizen advisory committee, comprised of six county commission appointees and one representative from each theme committee. The citizen advisory committee will use public feedback to refine the draft policies before turning them over the county Planning Board.

David Kellam, Figure Eight Island Homeowners’ Association administrator, was appointed by county commissioners to serve on the committee. Kellam said he wanted to get involved in the plan to ensure the county’s resources remain protected and available for public use.

“One of my main focuses is trying to protect natural environments and waters, the beaches,” Kellam said. “We don’t want to get so developed and congested that our recreational opportunities are severely impacted.”

Comments on the policies can be emailed to plannhc@nhcgov.com through Aug. 31. The citizen advisory committee will meet in October and November, and Rigby encouraged the community to stay involved by attending the meetings.

“We’re going to have maps out on the table. People can draw on them and tell us what they want their community to look like so we can go back and craft the regulations to make it happen,” Rigby said.

Katharine Ange, an American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) principal with the Renaissance Planning Group, will help the county planning staff translate the citizen goals and draft policies into real-world situations and solutions.

“Now the challenge begins, which is to take the words and aspirations and actually mold that into…options for how this turns into policy and shapes the built environment of the future,” Ange said.

The comprehensive plan, slated for June 2015 completion, will update and replace existing Coastal Area Management Act land use guidelines and direct development through 2040.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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