04/30/07 — County land-use plan on display Wednesday

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County land-use plan on display Wednesday

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 30, 2007 1:55 PM

With an open house scheduled at the Wayne Center from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, county officials are hoping for a good turnout as residents are invited to examine the county's new long-term, strategic land-use plan.

Focused on 12 different areas, the Wayne County Comprehensive Plan has been designed over the course of the past year by a citizens' steering committee. Once approved by the county Board of Commissioners -- likely within the next two months -- it is meant to serve as a guide for any and all decisions for the next 15 to 20 years.

But first, county Planning Director Connie Price said they need people to come and give their input.

"It's important because you don't want to have a specific group of people making the plan," he said. "You want to have representation from as many people as you can. A person who is single with two children is not going to have the same outlook as somebody who's 65 and retired, so it's important to have both of them come out."

The first area of the plan is transportation.

Included are proposals to continue to lobby for the construction of the U.S. 70 bypass and improvements to the U.S. 117 bypass. The plan also deals with secondary roads and the need for county bike lanes and pedestrian systems. It also proposes supporting a commuter-rail passenger service between Goldsboro and the Research Triangle Park.

"It's not just the major highways," Price said. "Local roads are affected most by new development.

"And when planning, you have to look at alternative modes of transportation."

The second area is economic development.

Included there are proposals for the county to work with the municipalities to provide incentives and infrastructure for new businesses and industries. It also seeks to encourage the use of educational and job-training programs.

In addition, it lists the protection of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the county's historical and cultural sites as crucial to tourism and future development.

The third area is agricultural preservation and growth management.

"When you have urban encroaching into what has traditionally been an agricultural area, you sometimes run into conflicts," Price said.

He explained that the proposals would establish a "town and country" development pattern, which would encourage continued growth in the county's already urban areas, while leaving rural areas available for agriculture.

The fourth area is water and sewer, which, Price said, the county and the municipalities already do a good job of coordinating so that systems are interconnectable and can support economic development across the county.

Fifth, is the school system, where cooperation from the Wayne County Board of Education will be necessary -- particularly as it presents its latest construction plan sometime in May, Price said.

The plan also stresses the need for better preservation of existing schools and encourages the opening of the buildings and their grounds for public, after-school use.

Another crucial aspect, Price explained, is the need to identify the areas of the county facing the most growth and then place schools in ways that reinforce desirable growth patterns rather than promote sprawl.

"We want to build where the people are," he said.

The sixth area of the plan is housing and neighborhoods.

"We want to try to set neighborhoods so we have walkable communities," Price said.

That means having plenty of sidewalks, schools as community building blocks, and neighborhoods built within walking distance of grocery stores and other shopping areas.

Also included in the topic is the need for a variety of affordable and family-friendly housing and neighborhoods.

"When people are building here, we can try and encourage them to maybe build certain kinds of neighborhoods in certain areas so we can make sure we're not excluding certain types or groups of people," he said.

The seventh area is public safety, which includes police, fire and rescue.

"Right now, we've got the whole county covered," Price said. "But we may get to a point as the county grows we need additional stations."

The plan also encourages programs like Neighborhood Watch, mobile law enforcement substations and increased public safety classes and programs throughout the county.

The eighth area of focus is parks and recreation.

Currently, the county does not have a recreation department and does not own any park land. It does, however, work cooperatively with those municipalities, non-profits, individuals and schools that do offer recreation opportunities for county residents.

And, while the plan does not necessarily propose the county take over recreation, it does encourage a more active role and the creation of a countywide master plan.

"Let's see if there is a need for a county system," Price said. "There's no need for us to build a bunch of parks if what's there is meeting the needs of the public."

Two areas he did identify as needs, though, are the continued preservation of open space around Seymour Johnson and the need to promote use of the Neuse River.

The ninth area is the revitalization of downtowns, in which the county proposes to help the municipalities maintain vibrant downtown and business districts by keeping their offices and services centrally located.

Tenth, is the need to maintain a good community appearance and image by taking steps such as enforcing statutes against abandoned and neglected buildings.

"A lot of that ties in with economic development and with people coming into the county for the first time. We need to make a good first impression," Price said.

And finally, the last two areas of the plan -- intergovernmental cooperation and funding of county services -- are in many ways, Price said, the backbone of it all.

"Nobody has a big enough pot to do everything alone," he said. "We're going to have to work together. This can't be done without a lot of cooperation."

But the key, he continued, will be for the commissioners to actually take the plan and refer to it regularly.

"The whole plan has to work together. This is a vision and a goal to work toward. We can't cover all situations in the plan, but it's a guidebook and it has to be used every day," he said.

At the open house, each topic area will be listed with its goals on large sheets of paper around the room. Those in attendance will be invited to check whether they agree or disagree with the proposals and write down any comments they may have. County commissioners and other county officials also will be on hand to discuss the plan.

Copies of the draft proposal are available for review on the county's Web site, www.waynegov.com, and at the county's public library branches.