05/03/07 — Having a say in county's future

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Having a say in county's future

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 3, 2007 1:45 PM

As the almost 100 people circled the auditorium of the Wayne Center Wednesday night, each carrying a different colored marker, many were stopping every few feet to examine a map or to read a poster explaining one of the 12 topic areas of the Wayne County Comprehensive Plan.

"I think they're doing an excellent job in allowing people to have input," said M.B. Gentry of the Patetown community.

There with his wife, Annetia, Gentry, who has worked as a building a contractor and a civil engineer, took his time poring over all the posters.

"I've been on both sides of the fence, and I might disagree on some of these topics, but I don't doubt the sincerity of their mission. I think they're working in the right direction," he said.

When the two-and-a-half hour open house was over, the majority of the check marks on almost every poster were in the "agree" and "strongly agree" categories.

"That's a good thing," Wayne County Planning Director Connie Price said. "It means the (citizen steering) committee did its job."

Focused on giving Wayne County a direction for the next 20 years, the plan includes proposals on improving transportation, the need for better designed neighborhoods and more housing, the need for recreation opportunities and park land and the need for more economic development.

It also includes ideas for paying for those projects and encourages the county and the various municipalities to work together.

"They've got a lot of good things in there. The thing of it is, where are you going to come up with the money to do all that," Fremont Mayor Devone Jones said. "But it is a plan, and if you've got the vision, then you can go work on it."

The key, Mount Olive resident Fletcher Bizzell noted, will be actually using it.

"It looks good. If they can execute everything on there, it can be good for Wayne County," he said.

While the majority of the people walking through the center were curious about the plan as a whole, there were areas that stood out more than others.

One of the most divisive was the issue of downtown revitalization. By the end of the night, it was the only poster with an almost equal number of checks for "agree" and "disagree" in every topic area.

To downtown Goldsboro resident Dreamweaver, the responsibility of the county to help the municipalities make those areas attractive was clear, especially in Goldsboro where many of the county's offices and services are located.

"I want to see more county involvement downtown," he said. "You need that central location."

Others, Price said, were worried about county money being spent in downtown areas.

But that wasn't the only part of the plan that caught people's attention. Others were interested in the need to expand water and sewer systems throughout the county, the creation of the U.S. 70 bypass and anything to do with the schools.

Residents also voiced their concerns about the need to balance between agriculture and urban development.

"I think it does (a good job)," county Cooperative Extension Service agent Eileen Coite said. "It's nice that there's one whole section given to farmland preservation.

"I think that's important in a large agricultural county. It needs to be a part of this."

Many of those in attendance also took time to examine the committee's strategic land use map, which was divided up into color-coded sections based on their projected uses, such as urban, agriculture/rural and urban developing.

"This is definitely not zoning," committee member Patty Gabriel explained. "It's just where you think development is going to go and where you're going to encourage it to go."

She and fellow committee member Steve Hicks added they were pleased to see a steady stream of people -- from all over the county -- coming to view the plan.

"I think what we're seeing tonight is pretty much agreement from the public with what the committee has put together," said Hicks, who also serves as the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce president. "But we also really want to hear from those who strongly disagree."

"We're trying to get a good representation," Ms. Gabriel added. "It's best to know now if there are any problems with the plan, rather than after it's adopted and being used as a tool."

The next step in the process is for the committee to sit down with county Planning Board and Board of Commissioners and hammer out the final details of the plan, based on the community's response. Price is hoping the final draft will be in the commissioners' hands within the next two months.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the public perspective," commissioner J.D. Evans said. "I haven't reviewed this in-depth yet. I'll listen to what the public is saying to us, and then I'll take what I know and what the public knows and we'll come up with a better solution for how we want this county to develop."

To review drafts of the plan, go to the county's Web site www.waynegov.com or visit one of the county's library branches.