04/22/07 — County will seek comment on comprehensive plan

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County will seek comment on comprehensive plan

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 22, 2007 2:00 AM

On May 2, county residents will have the opportunity to help set the direction of Wayne County for the next 10 to 20 years.

Faced with the need for a long-term plan addressing such issues as transportation, economic development, agricultural preservation, growth management, water and sewer, schools, housing, parks and recreation and public safety, the county commissioners are looking to adopt a comprehensive land use plan within the next few months.

Officially titled the Wayne County Comprehensive Plan, the 12-topic document also includes visions and goals for downtown revitalization efforts in all municipalities, improving community appearance and image, intergovernmental cooperation and funding for county services.

The draft proposal that will be presented on Wednesday, May 2, is the result of more than a year of work by a citizen steering committee. Copies will be available ahead of time on the county Web site www.waynegov.com and at each of the county's library branches.

Residents will be able to offer their input at the drop-in meeting.

"It's an opportunity for the people to show their agreement or disagreement with the proposed goals," county Planning Director Connie Price said. "Hopefully (the committee is) not so far off base on any one thing that you have a lot of people disagreeing."

Those who come to the open house, which will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Wayne Center, will be able review the strategic land use map, review each vision and its goals, check whether they agree or disagree with the plan and write a comment or two.

Once that is done, the steering committee, the county Board of Commissioners and the county Planning Board will meet to discuss the plan and the feedback. From there, the plan will be adopted at a final public hearing.

But the key, county officials said, is making sure people are at the open house.

"This is important," County Manager Lee Smith said. "You have to have the public input.

"There are some very vital things coming out of this document. If it's going to be a true comprehensive plan, people have to be involved. You name it, it's being discussed. If you have an opinion on something, you need to come."

Creating the plan, Price explained, is the final piece of the county's long-term strategic plan, which was implemented in 1997.

In the area of transportation, the plan addresses such issues as continued improvements to U.S. 117 and U.S. 70, the need for pedestrian and bicycle facilities, the need for light rail, as well as general street improvements.

In terms of economic development, it discusses the need to keep young workers in the county by offering them a variety of career opportunities, not only in retail, manufacturing and agriculture, but also agri-business, health care and information systems. It also affirms the need for the county to work to protect Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, as well as the county's high quality of life.

For agriculture preservation and growth management, the plan encourages the county to build a distinct "town and country" development pattern that identifies areas for urban development and areas to be left rural. It also encourages the growth of agri-tourism.

The plan also identifies the need for the county and each of the municipalities to work cooperatively to provide local infrastructure such as water and sewer, as well as support in downtown revitalization efforts.

For the schools, while the plan does include the construction of new facilities, it also encourages the preservation and repair of existing buildings.

Additionally, it calls for new and affordable housing throughout the county, particularly for the elderly and the disabled, as well as new fire and rescue stations and an increased police presence in selected neighborhoods. It also supports community efforts such as Neighborhood Watch.

Parks and recreation is another area the plan focuses on, even though the county does not currently own or operate any property or personnel. It encourages increased cooperation with the local municipalities and the construction of parks and the preservation of open space.

Other parts of the comprehensive plan address mobile homes, abandoned and neglected residential properties, landscaping, advanced planning for capital outlay expenses and new revenue sources.

But, consultant Glenn Harbeck, owner of Glenn Harbeck and Associates of Wilmington, said, if the plan's policy ideas aren't adopted, all of the committee's work and all the public input will be for naught. It is not a document meant to be looked at only on occasion.

"This plan is designed to be referenced at every one of your meetings," he told the commissioners Tuesday. "(These policies) aren't law, but they're guidance. It's going to come back to you every single month if it's used properly."